Next Stagg Bowl host has a lot to live up to

It's not just the history that has been created here that Division III will miss. It's also the dedication to and institutional knowledge of Division III by the City of Salem staff and hundreds of volunteers that have made the Stagg Bowl a success.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com 


At approximately 4 p.m. the night before Stagg Bowl XXXIX, Salem Stadium looked like this.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3sports.com
Closer to midnight, it looked like this.
Photo by Shonna Brown 
And yet, by midday on game day, Salem Stadium looked like this, thanks to the City of Salem staff and volunteers.
D3sports.com photo

By Pat Coleman

At 6:36 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 19, 2009, my mobile phone rang. In the depths of my attempts to sleep the night before the Stagg Bowl, I shook the cobwebs from my brain, saw the number on the screen, cleared my throat to attempt to sound professional, and answered the phone with one word.


“Delayed, yes, sir,” said the voice on the other end.

That voice belonged to Carey Harveycutter, then the director of civic facilities for the city of Salem, Va. We’d talked extensively the day before about the weather report for what was bearing down on Stagg Bowl XXXIX, and although I’d had my doubts about weather reports in general, this was dead on. And even though 18 inches of snow fell in less than 24 hours, Harveycutter and his dedicated group of city employees and even larger group of volunteers, that Stagg Bowl was played just a few hours after its scheduled start time.

That’s just one of many stories that can be told about the devotion of the City of Salem to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, to Division III football, to NCAA Division III student-athletes across a range of sports, and, in fact, to the National Collegiate Athletic Association itself.

And that is why the news that Salem will not host the Stagg Bowl or the Division III men’s basketball championships for the next four years, the events that made “the road to Salem” and “getting to Salem” the watchwords for more than a generation in NCAA Division III, is such a surprise.

That, in fact, is the dedication level that our next hosts must match in Texas and Ohio, as well as the men's basketball hosts in Fort Wayne, Ind.

The Salem team, led by Harveycutter and John Saunders, and the Old Dominion Athletic Conference staff led by commissioner Brad Bankston and assistant commissioner J.J. Nekoloff, has flawlessly pulled off nearly 50 championships in football and men’s basketball alone, dozens more in other Division III sports and a bunch of Division II championships as well. This past fall, the NCAA threw men’s and women’s soccer championships at Salem with about two months' notice, trusting the experts to pull off two Division III championships after the NCAA moved a number of events out of the state of North Carolina.

And to say they “pulled off” those championships, like dozens of others, minimizes the actual work that is done each time a Walnut and Bronze trophy makes its way to Salem. Each championship has a banquet, and Salem has raised the bar for these events multiple times in the past decade.

The Salem-ODAC hosting contingent has elevated the experience in the stadium as well as outside of it. The locker rooms were upgraded, turf was installed, stadium signage has been improved, a stadium video board was introduced (and then upgraded as well). Parking lot tailgating was elevated to an art form, then transitioned into a parking lot pregame concert party. And they made similar upgrades to the Salem Civic Center for basketball hosting as well.

The Gagliardi Trophy presentation was presented at a small luncheon in Salem up until 2010, when it became a prime-time, live-streamed event with four finalists. And that involved the Salem Civic Center staff turning the arena over quickly between an afternoon luncheon and an evening awards ceremony. And the official Stagg Bowl team banquet, once a luncheon with a couple of speakers and a pep band, has become a true showcase for the teams and fans, with camera crews at the previous round of games to collect video that is used in a highlight package at the banquet, along with player and coach interviews.

That is the model that other championships have followed, such as women’s basketball. And the entirety of Division III has followed the Salem model in another area, too. The Division III championships’ relationship with Special Olympics spread from Salem to Indianapolis and now is part of the NCAA and Division III culture.

Carey Harveycutter helped make Division III championships what they are today, even championships Salem has never hosted.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com 

Even the officiating has changed under this group’s leadership. Previously, the Stagg Bowl was assigned like a bowl game, and Division III officials had no part in the game, as it was assigned to local crews that had varying levels of respect for the game and its importance. That is no longer the standard, and the top Division III crews from playoff evaluations have Salem as their destination as well.

This, of course, has all had at its heart one man who brought the idea of bidding for Division III’s biggest football game to his little town in Southwest Virginia. And it’s a heady legacy that echoes far beyond the Roanoke Valley.

And he’s done things for the NCAA as well, far beyond the requirements of a host city manager, serving as the NCAA’s liaison to championship events outside of the city, even outside the region.

“I don’t do things based on my legacy,” Harveycutter told me recently. “I do things for the City of Salem.”

The facility may be better. The weather might be better the third weekend of December. But the new host can’t simply manufacture a deep-seated love for Division III or replace decades’ worth of institutional knowledge.

Salem raised the bar so far that nobody involved with the game can even tell us where the bar used to be.

If future hosts can do the same, more power to them. But we all know who created the blueprint.

Dec. 15: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Mount Union at Mary Hardin-Baylor
@ Salem, Va.
Preview Preview Live stats Audio
Dec. 15: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Mount Union at Mary Hardin-Baylor
@ Salem, Va.
Preview Preview Live stats Audio