I hate to even suggest the thought, but this weekend might provide one of the few exceptions for willfully traveling to Kansas. There’s family or work for some, which is understandable, but in this case, you might consider taking a trip across the border for sports and a very unique event. Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. hosts the Division II football national championship game this weekend and should draw a lot of attention.
The championship portion of major college football’s bowl system remains a few weeks away. College basketball season isn’t really in full swing. The Royals are making moves or failing to pick up the guys you want.
So, the Division II national championship game comes at a perfect time for those hoping for sports fix.
I’ve watched a lot of D-II football in my time. I went to Missouri Western and served on the sports staff of the St. Joseph News-Press for more than a decade. In addition to the Griffons, the News-Press covers a team you might have heard of — the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats.
Or more appropriately the four-time Division II national champion and four-time national runners-up.
The football is often high quality and compelling. The rosters often feature Division I transfers looking to become eligible immediately, under-the-radar talents and self-made stars.
The 24-team playoff field, divided into four regions, tends to produce the right matchup.
Sporting Park didn’t receive its dream scenario for the first football game — American; soccer doesn’t count — in its short history. The MIAA Conference with a large footprint spread across Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri did not produce a finalist for just the third time since 2004.
A Northwest, Western or Pittsburg State, the 2011 national champion, could have been a huge attendance draw, but the area should show up to watch anyway and support this event, previously sequestered to southern states in its history.
Sporting Park becomes the seventh venue to host the D-II national championship game, which started in 1973. Florence, Ala. — home of the University of North Alabama — served as home from 1986 to 2013 and played host to all eight of Northwest’s title game appearances.
Personally, I never had to make the trip to this thriving metropolis because I stuck more to the high school sports beat, but this offers a drastic change for those planning to attend. There’s now copious options for lodging, dining and entertainment nearby.
The Kansas City area provides a centralized hub and hopefully a draw to traveling fans that can help increase attendance. The Kansas City area has successfully bid on multiple NCAA national championships in recent years, and don’t think that impact isn’t felt in all parts of the metro, even if in just a small way.
This year’s D-II football national championship features a pair of “regional foes,” if I can use that term broadly.
Minnesota State — out of Mankato, Minn. — meets up with Colorado State-Pueblo. Both were No. 2 seeds in their respective region, and Minnesota State enters unbeaten.
Pueblo’s lone loss came back in October to Fort Lewis (Colo.).
I’ve made the drive to Mankato, Minn. before to watch a 2012 Division II national quarterfinal between Missouri Western and the Mavericks. It wasn’t that bad with some good company, so hopefully a few make this return trip this weekend.
I can’t tell you much about Pueblo, Colo., but I’d bet I-70 could get you to KCK from there with reasonable convenience.
For those already in the area, reasons to take a peek — aside from two good football teams — include the sightlines for football in a soccer-specific stadium and to see how the grass holds up. I’m not quite sure how it will work out, but it’s an interesting experiment that could lead to other spotlight football games in the same venue.
Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m., and for those not wanting to make the drive, the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
That way you don’t have to trek to Kansas if you really don’t want to.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.