|Almost everything you see in this picture is an upgrade that the City of Salem and Old Dominion Athletic Conference made to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in the 24 years it has been hosted in southwestern Virginia to date.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
By Pat Coleman
All-time Stagg Bowl hosts
The Stagg Bowl has only been played in four locations to date.
Phenix City, Ala.: 1973-82, 1985-89
The Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl is leaving Salem Stadium, its home since 1993, following the 2017 Division III football championship. This upcoming season’s title game, Stagg Bowl XLV, will be the last in the city that has been home to well more than 50 NCAA Division III championships.
The NCAA awarded the 2018 and 2019 Stagg Bowls to Shenandoah, Texas, and the 2020 and 2021 Stagg Bowls to Canton, Ohio in an announcement made this afternoon, April 18. Canton will mark the furthest north the Stagg Bowl will have ever been played, following a two-year stint in Kings Island, Ohio, outside of Cincinnati, in 1983 and 1984. In Texas, this will be the first time the Stagg Bowl has been hosted west of the Mississippi River. Shenandoah is in the northern suburbs of Houston.
Hosting rights for the Stagg Bowl, along with all Division III championships have come up for renewal on a regular basis. Most recently, in December 2013, the NCAA announced the game would be played in Salem for four more years, 2014 through 2017.
"A city like Salem that has such a broad base of hosting experience across multiple championships, that certainly means a lot, but it doesn't mean that it's an automatic," NCAA vice president for Division III Dan Dutcher told D3sports.com in December, on the Stagg Bowl pregame show.
"We're very disappointed that we have presented a quality product for more than 25 years and we love the game, we love the events, we love working with Division III student-athletes," said Carey Harveycutter, currently the director of tourism for Salem, Va., who was part of the team that pitched the NCAA more than a quarter-century ago on bringing the Stagg Bowl to the Salem. "We're very disappointed that the Road to Salem will no longer be there."
The recommendation was far from unanimous from the Division III football championships committee, according to one member, who was also told that, aside from Division I baseball in Omaha, the NCAA does not want single-site hosting of championships going forward. In 2014, the Division II football championship left Florence, Ala., where it had been hosted since 1986.
In addition, the Division III men’s basketball semifinals, which have been held in Salem since 1996, will depart after next season as well.
“The sports committees had to make some very difficult decisions due to the quality of bids received,” Joni Comstock, NCAA senior vice president of championships, said in a statement distributed via email. “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.”
Woodforest Bank Stadium, run by the Conroe Independent School District in Shenandoah, Texas, outside Houston, seats 9,600 fans. It is 158 miles from the closest Division III school, Mary Hardin-Baylor. Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, owned by the Canton City School District, seats 22,375 fans and is mere miles from Mount Union.
Salem did not rule out bidding to regain the Stagg Bowl in the next bidding cycle, for Stagg Bowl L in 2022. “We’re always looking for possibilities,” Harveycutter said. “We’re still very centrally located for Division III schools, and with the ODAC working with us, we’re in a very Division III area.”
The three sites which will host Stagg Bowls from 2017-2021 are marked in green: Shenandoah, Texas, just north of Houston; Salem, Va., and Canton, Ohio.
A good swath of Division III football is within 500 miles of Salem: as far west as Franklin in Indiana and Sewanee in Tennessee, as far as Defiance to the northwest, as far as Ithaca to the north, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy to the northeast, and as far as LaGrange to the south. Schools under 500 miles can bus to the Stagg Bowl, helping the NCAA's budget, and by our count, 90 schools are within that radius of Salem, Va., or 36 percent.
Even more schools are within 500 miles of Canton. In contrast, only 13 Division III schools with football -- just five percent -- are within busing distance of Shenandoah, Texas.
Canton, of course, is even colder than Salem. At 7 p.m. on Dec. 16, 2016, the kickoff time of Stagg Bowl XLIV, it was 17 degrees in Canton, 11 degrees colder than it was in Salem. It was 70 degrees in Shenandoah, Texas. Average mean temperatures for that date are 30 degrees in Canton, 39 in Salem and 50 in Shenandoah.