Men’s Basketball, D-II Softball will also depart after spring tournaments
They say diamonds are forever. That might be true, but that’s not necessarily the case for gridirons and courts.
Salem’s reign as “Championship City” is not over, but three of the crown jewels of Division III will soon be opting for other locations. It was announced this week that the NCAA has decided to move the Division III National Football Championship “Stagg Bowl” game out of Salem after this year’s contest, as well as the men’s Division III basketball and the women’s Division II softball tournaments.
The Stagg Bowl has been in Salem since 1993, while the men’s basketball has been here since 1996. When the news hit that both events were leaving e-mails started pouring in to Carey Harveycutter, Salem’s Tourism Director, from coaches and administrators who enjoyed their time in Salem, thanking him for the great work the city has done in hosting these events for 25 years.
“While the Stagg Bowl and men’s basketball are departing none of the events would have ever stayed so long without the fine employees of the city, ODAC, Mountain East, WVIAC and Roanoke College,” said Harveycutter. “ We accomplished something of which we can all be proud. No regrets at all, hard to beat new or remodeled facilities.”
The 2017 Stagg Bowl will be the 25th, and last, at Salem Stadium while the Men’s Division III Basketball and Women’s Division II Softball also will be played in cities other than Salem after the spring of 2018.
“It has been an incredible run,” said Harveycutter. “For a city our size to host nearly 100 NCAA events of this magnitude is one of the greatest civic success stories ever in the Commonwealth. This is something all of the localities in Virginia’s Blue Ridge region should be very proud of on a number of levels.”
Harveycutter has been the Game Manager or Tournament Director for each of the 83 NCAA National Championship events the city has hosted since December of 1993, on both the Division II and Division III levels. Every time the NCAA rolled into town, the city rolled out the red carpet for athletes, coaches and their families.
“In many ways, we became a victim of our own successes,” say Salem Mayor Randy Foley. “Our attention to detail and willingness to do whatever was necessary to ensure a successful championship made it nearly impossible for the NCAA to leave us for 25 years. Our people always bent over backwards for the NCAA events and the committee members, and we certainly wish them well as they move forward.”
During that time Salem improved the lighting at Salem Stadium, put artificial turf on the field, then upgraded the turf. While Salem’s facilities still rank among the best in the region, newer fields and stadiums with more amenities have been built on campuses and in communities across the country since Salem first got into the NCAA business 25 years ago.
“The sports committees had to make some very difficult decisions due to the quality of bids received,” said Joni Comstock, NCAA Senior Vice-President of Championships. “Regarding Division III Championships, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and the City of Salem have certainly set the standard for the experience of everyone involved at NCAA Championships from the student-athletes and coaches to the spectators. In this round of site selections, the committees felt that there were bids from cities with facilities that took the championships to the next level that they just couldn’t overlook.”
The Men’s Final Four Basketball weekend for Division III has been a fixture at the Salem Civic Center since 1996. It’s final run in Salem will take place next March, just a few months after the arena turns 50-years-old.
“We always tried to treat each championship like it was the first, because for many of these athletes, it truly was their only time on this NCAA stage,” says Harveycutter. “There may be places with bigger and better facilities, but I guarantee you that no one has better people dedicated to making these championships unforgettable moments for the student-athletes.”
In 1991 Harveycutter, retired Salem City Manager Forest Jones, and retired Economic Development Director Joe Yates traveled to Bradenton, Florida to see if they might have a chance of bringing the Stagg Bowl to Salem. Before 1993, the game bounced back and forth between Phenix City, Alabama, Kings Island, Ohio and Bradenton. Salem gave the game stability and a place to call home for two-and-half decades.
“In the beginning this was the hottest ticket in town and often on the coldest day of the year,” said Harveycutter. “We appreciate the local sports fans who supported the game and recognized the efforts we went to every year to give the games event status. To be able to maintain a level of excellence and host these events annually for over two decades speaks volumes about the entire Roanoke Valley.”
Salem’s partner through all of the D-III Championships has been the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and that relationship will continue into the future. The ODAC will be onboard when for NCAA Women’s Basketball comes to Salem in 2019 and 2021 at the brand new Cregger Center on the Roanoke College campus. Women’s Division III Softball and Women’s Division III Lacrosse also will be back in Salem in 2021 and 2022 at the Moyer Complex and Roanoke College’s Kerr Stadium.
“As always, we’re excited to bring yet another NCAA Division III National Championship to our region,” said Scott Allison, Roanoke College Athletic Director. “Conducting NCAA Championships on our campus helps in our efforts to spread the good name of Roanoke College. We continue to celebrate our wonderful partnership with the City of Salem and the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.”
In addition, Kerr Stadium will host the Women’s Division II Lacrosse Championship in 2021. Kerr Stadium opened in 2006 and has seating for 1,400 fans. In December of 2016 Kerr played host to the NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s Soccer Final Fours and will host the 2017 Division III Women’s Lacrosse Final Four in May. In August of 2016, the playing surface was replaced with new state of the art field turf, while the public address system received significant upgrades in the fall of 2016.
The 155,000 square foot Cregger Center opened in August of 2016, with five floors and features a basketball arena that seats over 1,700 along with standing room only space.
“It’s the perfect size for the women’s championships,” said Roanoke Sports Information Director Chris Kilcoyne. “I was at Randolph-Macon when they played in the women’s championship at Virginia Wesleyan, which has a facility about the same size as ours, and it was just right.”