DII Football: Sporting Park to host 2015 championship on Dec. 19
The first Division II football regional rankings will be released October 26.
It will mark the start of the sprint to the end of the regular season. Administrators, coaches, players, and fans will attempt to figure out what their team needs to do to secure a place in the playoffs or to earn the desired seed.
Once the selections have been made, the teams will battle for the chance to earn the championship, played in Kansas City's Sporting Park.
Florence, Alabama had been the host of the championship for 25 years before Kansas City was awarded the bid before the 2014 season. It was a tough decision for the NCAA to make. After all, Florence had done a tremendous job hosting the event, but every indicator points to the decision being the right one.
"The response from the school was excellent. We got great responses from coaches, student-athletes, from the football committee, and from the fans that came to the game. We had nothing but positive responses and it made us feel good about our decision to host the game," said Bob Boeriger, the MIAA Commissioner and one of the driving forces behind moving the game to Kansas City.
It is no surprise that Boerigter was able to be one of the coordinators of a championship football event. After all, he was athletic director at Northwest Missouri State and accompanied the team as AD when they played for championships in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 in Florence.
"One of the cool things about this is that we did try to take some of the things they did in Florence so effectively and move them to Kansas City. Hospitality was one of the things that they did so well," he said.
One of the ways the host committee attempted to match Florence's hospitality - no easy task - was to recruit local people to serve as team hosts. One of those hosts was Steve Coppinger, a former All-American football player at Boerigter's former employer. As a player, Coppinger won a national championship in 1998 in Florence.
"They exceeded our expectations. Coppinger recruited some guys he had played with and had all played in the championship game(s) before," said Boerigter. "They went out to the semifinals site of the team they would host and they did a wonderful job for them. They even game John Wristen (CSU-Pueblo coach) some good advice about practice based upon their experience."
The host committee's goal was to mix the hospitality that Florence had provided year after year and combine that with a major market and a state of the art facility.
Coppinger said the committee achieved its goal.
"You're in a major city. You kind of get the same royal treatment but there is a bigger kind of atmosphere. The kids were in awe of the stadium. They are now playing in stadium they can't compete with at home. As a player you feel like if you play in a championship game you should play in a special place. It's part of the achievement," he said.
Sporting Park is the home to Kansas City's professional soccer team, but was designed to be able to accommodate a football game. It is one of the finest professional stadiums in the country.
"Sporting is a great venue and they know how to put on a game. They are able to present a football game that had never been produced in the history of D2 Football," said Boerigter.
The attendance at the inaugural event was right around 6,500, which is typical for Division II Football championships, in spite of two first-time championship participants. The belief is that mark can be improved as fans take advantage of all that Kansas City and the host committee have to offer.
"We had a pep rally at the Power and Light District and had a nice crowd for that. We think that can be an absolutely huge event," he said. "We had things set up nicely for pre game activities outside the stadium and the CSU-Pueblo fans took advantage but the Minnesota State people couldn't because they drove in the day of."
The potential for growth is good. People who might have been on the fence on whether or not to attend now know that the product is worth the price of admission.
"The football committee guys were so complimentary," said Boerigter. "They had been to the games before.
Coppinger's role as team host allowed him to see how the student-athletes reacted to playing at Sporting Park.
"In Florence it's great but when you're in a state of the art stadium and it makes a bigger impact," he said. "The facility is so much better and it was loud with 6,500 people."
There is also the possibility that a local MIAA or Great Lakes Valley team could be one of the participants, which could cause attendance to skyrocket.
From NCAA representative, to coach, to player, to fan, everyone seems to be in agreement that Kansas City did an outstanding job hosting the 2014 championship and the NCAA made the right decision to award the opportunity.
The 2015 championship will be played on Saturday, December 19. Kickoff is at 3pm. Anyone wanting to order tickets can do so at the following link.