Cleveland Browns Family Day Scrimmage on Saturday at InfoCision Stadium on the University of Akron campus could very well be a dress rehearsal for something more significant.
The Beacon Journal learned Tuesday that the home of the Zips is under consideration for Browns training camp. Browns coach Mike Pettine and team officials have expressed interest in moving from Berea in recent months.
Browns spokesman Rob McBurnett confirmed that UA was among several sites that the team has reached out to regarding training camp and sent request for proposals.
In a phone interview with the Beacon Journal in June, team president Alec Scheiner said that camp could move as early as next year to a venue within driving distance of Cleveland or the team could choose to stay put.
“We’ve just started looking at that,” Scheiner said several days later. “We’re going to look very carefully at whether we can or should host training camp off site, and we’ll look at various different options if we do. We haven’t ruled anything out, including staying in Berea.”
Right now, the UA is in the early stages of assembling a plan.
“We've been in some discussions; they have asked for an RFP [request for proposal],” said UA Director of Athletics Tom Wistrcill via phone Tuesday afternoon, “so we're considering our response to that. We don't have anything yet.”
There will be many considerations, Wistrcill said, including whether there’s enough space, room and board and the number of fans that could be accommodated.
Pettine mentioned his own list of criteria Friday during a news conference.
“I think the first thing you look at is when you’re talking [is] safety for your players. The condition of the fields is very important,” he said. “Having ample grass practice fields, that’s important. I think you then look at just the overall facilities, the quality of the facilities, meeting space, cafeteria, dorms, whatever it is, whether you’re going to be in a hotel off site. There are a lot of factors that come into play.”
There’s little doubt that InfoCision could meet some of that, but one obstacle could be the playing surface. The Zips football team plays on field turf. Also, if the Browns need multiple fields, that might prove to be another stumbling block.
“That's something we'd have to consider,” Wistrcill said. “We don't have an answer for that yet. Like I said, we're just at the beginning stages of evaluating.”
The primary stumbling block, however, might come because the Zips begin their preseason camp the first week of August. In fact, their second day of practice is this Saturday. Wistrcill said he has mentioned the Browns possibility to Zips coach Terry Bowden.
“We had a brief conversation about it,” he said. “The great thing about coach Bowden is he's always open to lots of new and intriguing things, so it's something we're going to have to discuss more with him. The initial discussion was very positive.”
While road bumps exist, UA offers several positives — the relatively new FirstEnergy (soccer) Stadium and InfoCision Stadium along with location. The facilities are situated near Canton and are easily accessible from Cleveland’s eastern suburbs via state Route 8 and Interstate 77.
Wistrcill said fans’ excitement for Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage at UA may have increased the Browns’ interest in considering the campus for training camp.
Fans claimed more than 25,000 free tickets to the event about 10 hours after distribution began July 17, exceeding the team’s expectations. “We’re thrilled with the response,” said Kevin Griffin, the Browns’ vice president of fan experience and marketing.
Gregg Mervis, president and chief executive officer of the Akron/Summit County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said it would be great for the community if the Browns decided to relocate their training camp to Akron.
“We’re certainly a big sports town,” he said.
The Akron area would benefit from an influx of visitors who would spend money on hotels and at restaurants. Plus, there would be the added perk of having the Akron name appear whenever the media reported on training camp.
“Seeing the name on the news day in and day out certainly doesn’t hurt the public relations for the community,” Mervis said.
Akron city officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Wistrcill said the Browns have asked UA to submit the proposal by Aug. 15, and to include “as much as we can give them” in terms of information on where players would “practice, meet, eat and sleep.”
UA spokeswoman Eileen Korey said the proposal would detail “whether the current facilities can support this, and/or whether new facilities would need to be constructed.”
She said it is too soon to talk about what costs might be associated with the proposal and the sources of such funding.
As far as Wistrcill is concerned, the devil is in the details in terms of whether this is possible — but it could represent a golden opportunity for UA.
“I think you approach every opportunity from the aspect of whether it's good for the university. Does it help the region grow? Does it help the university grow?” he said, “So I certainly think it's something we are going to discuss here with the new president [Scott Scarborough], the board and everyone involved.”
By George M. Thomas - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
Beacon Journal staff writers Nate Ulrich, Rick Armon, Katie Byard and Marilyn Miller contributed to this report. George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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