The NCAA has decided to move the Division III championship football game – the Stagg Bowl – out of Salem after a 25 year run, following this December’s game. Not long thereafter, the D3 men’s basketball championship will depart town as well (in March) after another stretch of 20-plus years.
The City of Salem made a commitment in the early 90’s to go after NCAA D3 and D2 championship events as an economic development driver for the city and the Roanoke Valley. To say it wildly succeeded in that endeavor would be a significant understatement.
Division 2 softball, which has only been here on an intermittent basis, is also moving to a site in Denver that Director of Tourism Carey Harveycutter has visited himself and describes as “gorgeous,” with its field turf playing surfaces and other amenities.
The Stagg Bowl is moving to Canton, Ohio for the next two years and then to a site in Texas on the campus of Mary Hardin Baylor – which won the D3 football title last December. “Wonderful, wonderful facilities,” said Harveycutter.
Harveycutter said the NCAA wants to move away from such long term commitments for its championships, but one can not overlook the aging facilities in Salem. The Salem Civic Center is 50 years old noted Harveycutter, who was instrumental over the years in landing the 80-plus NCAA title events that have come here, including softball and lacrosse.
“We’ve had an unbelievable run,” he said, “we’re up on the level with Omaha and the men’s College World [baseball] Series and Oklahoma City with the women’s College World [softball] Series.”
Harveycutter pointed out that in those cases commitments had to be made to upgrade the stadiums and facilities that hosted these events; Omaha built a brand new park to replace the venerable Rosenblatt Stadium.
“Oklahoma City spent multiple millions of dollars to upgrade theirs.” The men’s basketball tournament is moving to an arena in Fort Wayne, Indiana that is actually 20 years older than the Salem Civic Center, but Harveycutter said it underwent extensive renovations, including raising the roof to accommodate suites, all new seating, “essentially gutting the facility.”
He knew that sooner or later all good things must come to an end, especially with the Stagg Bowl, which is nationally televised every year and puts Salem on the map. Harveycutter also thought “it was going to be a big stretch to keep basketball, because let’s face it, the Salem Civic Center will be 50 years old next year. The shower stalls are basically the same as when they opened it in 1967, other than new plumbing. It’s hard to keep events of a national caliber in an older building.”
Harveycutter said they were told facilities played a major factor as to why football and basketball were moved. (Women’s basketball will come to Salem in 2019 and 2021, but those title contests will be played at the new Cregger Center on the campus of Roanoke College.)
D3 lacrosse is on the way as well.
As for any funds the City of Salem might allocate to upgrade its Civic Center complex, Harveycutter said that’s a decision for City Council and Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess. “Somebody with a higher pay grade than me. [But] it’s been an outstanding run, unmatched by any other community in the Division 2-Division 3 world. For sure one that will never be reached again. There’s too much competition out there.”