Saturday morning, Northwest Missouri will play in the NCAA Division II football national championship game in Florence, Ala. A Kansas City delegation is in attendance, and not just to cheer on the Bearcats. They’re taking notes because next year the championship game moves to Kansas City.
How did Kansas City land the championship for next year? The answer may surprise you.
Last October’s game at Arrowhead Stadium between Division II powers Northwest Missouri and Pittsburg State drew more than 17,000. That’s lower than average attendance in the dozen years the game has been played in Kansas City. But when the MIAA Conference submitted its bid to the NCAA, assistant commissioner Amber Feldman says Kansas City’s proven interest in Division II football wasn’t included in the bid’s selling points.
Feldman says Sporting Park is what she feels locked up the bid for Kansas City.
“Being able to offer that as a championship atmosphere, I think, goes a long way as far as creating that season-ending moment for these teams that have worked so hard to get to that championship final,” said Feldman. “I think the committee realized that and took special note of what we have to offer at Sporting Park.”
Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., hosted the MLS Cup championship match this month. Last summer, it was the site of the MLS All-Star game. According to Kathy Nelson, the CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission, Sporting Kansas City’s experience and willingness to host other events made the Division II football bid successful for Kansas City.
“I mean those people at Sporting know how to do events like this,” said Nelson. “Their expertise, their knowledge and their passion just kind of sums it up and makes it a win-win for everyone.”
For the last 26 years, it’s been played in Florence. The Northwest Missouri Bearcats, from Maryville, are making their eighth trip there. That’s more than any other Division II football team.
Though Adam Dorrel is making his first trip to Florence as the Bearcats head coach, he’s been there six times before as an assistant under Northwest Missouri’s legendary Mel Tjeerdsma. That includes two of the three national championships won by the Bearcats in Florence.
“It means a lot to me because I know that it means a lot to that city and they’ve always appreciated that game,” said Dorrel. “They’ve always made our kids feel special and important like it was the biggest game on the earth that day. And I mean that.”
But the title game in Florence has not drawn more than 10,000 fans since 1995. Next year there’s no guarantee, of course, that an area team such as Northwest Missouri or Pittsburg State will reach the title game in Kansas City. So how does the MIAA Conference plan to stir up fan interest for a late December football game at Sporting Park if there’s no area team involved?
Amber Feldman says that plan is under discussion.
“We have a lot of work to do this next year and getting our marketing plan sorted out and making that big sell to Division II football fans across the country,” she said.
In that October game at Arrowhead, Northwest survived its toughest test of the season, a nine-point win over Pittsburg State.
With a 14-0 record on the line against Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.), the Bearcats would like to bid a fond farewell to Florence by winning their fourth national championship.