While FCS ball has taken center stage this Spring with some schools cashing in on big linear TV appearances and others partnering with local stations to increase their regional footprint, Division II and Division III ball still marches on.
This weekend provides a unique slate of games at older stadiums with uncertain futures. On Saturday, Savannah State and West Alabama will play in the Gulf Coast Challenge in Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium, while Division III’s Southern Athletic Association (SAA) has four games at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium on Saturday and Sunday.
These events provide new life for stadiums that face an uncertain future. Ladd-Peebles Stadium’s use became reduced once South Alabama moved to their shiny new home, Hancock-Whitney Stadium. The Senior Bowl soon followed, while the LendingTree Bowl stayed put. For now, the bowl game and the Gulf Coast Challenge, now in its fifth edition, will stay in the old stadium, hoping to bring new life in an era of upheaval for the stadium.
For War Memorial Stadium, the SAA’s four game slate is a welcome change of pace for a stadium whose use has become a subject of local controversy. Before announcing a recent slate of future games at War Memorial Stadium, the future of Razorback games at the stadium was in limbo. Concerns over Arkansas’ program losing money and a recruiting weekend made many close to the program wonder if it was worth it.
A New Niche?
All of this brings us to this weekend. The big question is whether or not this is what the future holds for these venues. In a way, the pandemic provides a solid set of circumstances that both parties, game organizers and the stadiums, can benefit from.
The pandemic provides an opportunity for the schools involved to increase their gate receipts in a reasonable way. The big theme for both stadiums was social distancing. Gulf Coast Challenge officials will cap attendance at 7,000 in 40,000 seat Ladd-Peebles Stadium, which is significantly more than both West Alabama and Savannah State will be able to accommodate in this current health situation.
The same applies for War Memorial in Little Rock, as the 25% capacity of 13,530 fans in the 54,120 seat stadium provides an larger crowd than all the schools in the SAA have had the chance to play in front of all Spring.
Furthermore, for the players and fans, these games provide the chance for them to experience historic venues that other Division II and Division III fans do not have. Once again it’s a win-win for fans and players and the venues and their cities, as they get new streams of tourism in exchange for these experiences.
So, should older stadiums like Ladd-Peebles, War Memorial Stadium, and soon, Legion Field adjust their focus on catering to smaller schools? All these points ask “why not?” While schools like South Alabama and Arkansas move on to more optimal situations, local, smaller schools can benefit greatly from games at these historic venues. This weekend’s games will be a good measuring stick for the viability of small school neutral site games at older venues.