Bears officials take search to DeKalb

By Matt Stacionis

Officials from the Chicago Bears’ organization visited DeKalb Wednesday morning in search of a new training camp home.

The team narrowed its search down to a list of eight cities, with DeKalb as a possibility. The team also visited Rockford later on Wednesday. Cities including Decatur and Charleston also were mentioned.

Although DeKalb city officials have been positive about the possibility of luring the Bears, NIU officials are not buying up Cade McNown jerseys just yet.

“The facility requirements appear less than what we can offer them,” said Norm Jenkins, assistant athletics director for facilities. “There would have to be

significant facility enhancements to accommodate them. It remains to be seen.”

NIU football coach Joe Novak said that in order to accommodate a professional football team, NIU would need to upgrade its training room facility and practice fields. An indoor facility at Platteville, Wis., the Bears’ previous home, was built a year after the team decided to practice there.

“We don’t have the facilities to accommodate the Bears,” NIU athletics director Cary Groth said in August. “We don’t have an indoor facility the Bears need when it rains. If they were willing to help build one for us, then it’s worth a shot, but it is something that we have to do together. But getting an indoor facility is our next priority.”

Groth wasn’t completely pessimistic about the Bears’ move, though. She said she would like what the team could do for the campus and the community.

“It would be wonderful to see the Bears come here,” Groth said. “We would work hard with them to give them what they want. We got our hand in the jar.”

If Chicago did choose DeKalb, it could also mean the NIU football team would find itself without a place to practice. Because the teams practice and play at roughly the same time of year, only one would get to use the facilities, and there aren’t too many professionals willing to share a locker room with a college team. Those same players could pose a double booking in the residence halls.

Because the players, staff and media all stay on the grounds, NIU also would need to open its residence halls up to accommodate the large amount of people. If camp was to run until the end of August one season, students would find themselves without a place to stay during the first week of classes.

“The timing of the whole thing would create a tricky situation,” Jenkins said. “The Bears do summer camps at the same time Division I teams practice. They don’t even start camp until the middle of July, beginning of August. The Bears camp did not run the same time as Platteville did.”

Another problem is DeKalb’s distance from Chicago. One of the reasons former head coach Mike Ditka moved the franchise’s facilities from Lake Forest to Platteville was to ensure that his players would not run home and party in the city every night. With DeKalb roughly a hour-and-a-half from downtown Chicago, NIU possibilities may be even more obsolete.

NIU football aside, the university still is entertaining the possibility of bringing a professional team to DeKalb.

“It would run similar with our team,” Jenkins said. “It’s tricky, but the university would definitely like to sit down with the Bears and see what are their plans.”