The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

December 12, 2013

Florence loses D-II championship game


jonathan@athensnews-courier.com

FLORENCE — A tradition lasting nearly three decades is leaving North Alabama. The Division II football championship will be held in Florence for the final time Dec. 21, the NCAA announced Wednesday.

For the past 28 years, Florence hosted the event in Braly Municipal Stadium. The NCAA announced the game would move to Kansas City, Kan., starting next season. The 28-year run is the second-longest continuous period for any NCAA championship venue, behind the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

“It was always our goal to showcase the student-athletes and provide them with a true championship environment and provide them with life long memories,” said Shoals National Championship Committee Chairman Mitch Dobbins in a press release Wednesday. “We will always remember the thousands of lives that we have been able to touch, all across this country.”

The new venue will be Sporting Park in Kansas City home of the recent MLS Cup Champion, Sporting KC. The newly constructed stadium has never hosted a football game.

The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the Kansas City Sports Commission submitted the winning bid. Kansas will host the event from 2014 until at least 2017.

Florence’s Braly Stadium will host its final championship game Saturday, Dec. 21. The 14,215-seat stadium, which is the home field of the University of North Alabama, served as the site for numerous Division II playoff games before being chosen as the host stadium for the D-II National Championship game in 1986.

From 1973-85, the game was played at five different sites and held the distinction of a bowl game, played under such names as the Camellia Bowl, Pioneer Bowl and Palm Bowl.

It was finally renamed the NCAA Division II Football Championship Game when Florence won the bidding to host the event in 1986. The Shoals-area added two national award programs — the Harlon Hill Trophy and the Division II Football Hall of Fame — to the activities surrounding championship week.

Jeff Hodges, who serves as chairman for both programs, said they are separate from the Division II Championship and are unique to the Shoals.

“We do plan to continue both programs in some fashion but will need some time to determine how we will proceed,” Hodges said.