The Stagg Bowl is coming back to Ohio.
The NCAA announced that Shenandoah, Texas and Canton will each host two Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowls from 2018-2022.
Shenandoah will host the 2018 and 2019 games at Woodforest Bank Stadium, and the defending national champion Mary Hardin-Baylor will serve as the site host. Canton will get the 2020 and 2021 title games with the Ohio Athletic Conference and Stark County Convention and Visitors Bureau serving as the host. The title contest will be played inside Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
The announcement came as a surprise to some because many felt the game wouldn't be moved from the city that has hosted it since 1993. With the exception of the Division I baseball championships in Omaha, the NCAA has undertaken a game of musical chairs with its championship sites in recent years. Three years ago, the Division II championship game was moved from Florence, Alabama after almost 30 years.
Salem has hosted the Division III title contest since 1993. The game has gone from a Saturday afternoon to Friday night primetime in recent years. Now it will be moving to a different venue
"We're very disappointed that we have presented a quality product for more than 25 years and we love the game," said Carey Harveycutter, who is currently the director of tourism for Salem, Va.
This year's championship game will mark the 25th consecutive in Salem, Virginia. It will also be the final. At least until 2023. Who knows what will happen when the bidding comes up again.
Harveycutter did not dismiss the notion that Salem would try to get the game back after Shenandoah and Canton get their turn to host the Stagg Bowl.
Woodforest Bank has a capacity of 9,600 and Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium will seat almost 23,000 when the project is completed this summer.
The Stagg Bowl has been exclusive to just four cities since the first one in 1972. Phenix City, Alabama held the game from 1973-82. Kings Island, Ohio had the game for two years (1983-84) before it went back to Phenix City from 1985-89. Bradenton, Florida was awarded the game from 1990-92 and has been involved in the bidding recently but has not been able to land the game again.
The game was moved to Salem in 1993 and has its share of memories over the last 24 years. First and foremost, Mount Union's 12 titles stand out. As do the nine title clashes between the Purple Raiders and UW-Whitewater Warhawks from 2005-2014. The infamous snow game of 2009 where almost 20 inches fell overnight and pushed the game back from a 11 a.m. to a 4 p.m. start on a Saturday.
New memories are waiting to be made in Shenandoah and Canton.
Tuesday's announcement by the NCAA revealed 600 host sites for a number of championships from 2018-2022. A total of 43 states will host at least one championship event from the NCAA's three divisions over those four years.
"We want to thank everyone who submitted a bid for this cycle of championship site selections and for their continued commitment during the process," said Joni Comstock, NCAA senior vice president of championships. "We look forward to working with our membership, the cities and local organizing committees who may host for the first time, as well as the groups who will repeat as host sites. I also want to acknowledge and thank the sports committees that reviewed these exceptional bids and made the selections based on providing the best possible experience for our student-athletes, coaches and spectators."
Why Shenandoah and Canton?
The latter seems almost too obvious with the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the first-class facilities that will be available for the teams, coaches and fans. Not to mention, location, location and location. Currently, there are 90 Division III schools -- or 36 percent -- that are within 500 miles of Salem, which means a bus trip compared to a flight for the NCAA budget.
Canton can top that as well over 100 schools, if not close to half of the 250 Division III schools that sponsor football will be within the 500-mile radius. By contrast, Shenandoah has just 13 schools within busing distance and the closest is Mary Hardin-Baylor, which is about 160 miles from the Houston suburb.
What Shenandoah can offer that Ohio and Virginia can't is (potentially) a warmer title game, but it's not a guarantee. Research shows the last 10 years the average temperate in Shenandoah is around 50 degrees on the third weekend in December. Salem is around 35 degrees and Canton around 30 degrees in those same parameters.
Last year, Mount Union played at Mary Hardin-Baylor in the national semifinals and the game temperature was 50 degrees with a 10-15 MPH wind. Two years ago when the Purple Raiders defeated St. Thomas in the Stagg Bowl, the temperature was 35 degrees with a 15-20 MPH wind. It was 42 degrees in Canton that day.
The weather factor should be a moot point because it's not a topic of discussion when determining the other host sites for any of the other Division III playoff games.
There were rumblings online about Canton being so close to Mount Union. So what? Does that mean the Purple Raiders will even be in the 2020 and 2021 title games? Does playing in Canton give them an unfair advantage? If so, then Mary Hardin-Baylor is subject to the same criticism for being the host site and being the closest school to Shenandoah.
Getting the Stagg Bowl was the city of Canton and the OAC's doing. Unlike UMHB being named the host school for the 2018 and 2019 games, Mount Union is not involved in any manner with Canton. Right now, the Purple Raiders are figuring out why they weren't playing in the 2016 game and doing what needs to be done to make it to the 2017 contest.
Mount Union playing in the first and final (for now) time in Salem would be the perfect segue for Division III as it transitions to a new era for the Stagg Bowl.