Some Emporia State football coaches and players were in the area for a school-related function last week. Why not make a side trip?
Garin Higgins, the Hornets’ head football coach, didn’t tell the players about the destination until the cars pulled into the lot at Sporting Park.
They were there a day before a Sporting KC game, but precisely on time for a message.
“I wanted them to see the place,” Higgins said. “You have dreams. Every program across the country has goals and aspirations where they want to be at the end of the year.
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“This is where they host the national championship. This is where we want to be.”
The Hornets returned Tuesday, along with 11 other MIAA teams, to preview the season and to see where the NCAA Division II championship game will be played Dec. 20.
Players and coaches were photographed on the field, and all marveled at the 20,000-seat stadium that fills for the regular tenant.
With eight title-game appearances in the past decade, the MIAA has been something of a regular in the national championship game.
Northwest Missouri State, the choice of media and league coaches to win the conference crown, is coming off a national championship. The school also won the 2009 title and played for the trophy from 2005-08.
Pittsburg State, the league’s second choice, won the 2011 national championship and got to the title game in 2004.
All of those games were played in Florence, Ala., the championship game’s home from 1986 to last year.
But Kansas City won the bid and will play host to the title game for four years. Tickets are expected to go on sale in September.
“We can begin the MIAA year and end the MIAA year right here,” commissioner Bob Boerigter said.
The path to a championship was made more difficult this year with a new league alignment.
Two teams that combined for a 3-17 conference record in 2013 — Lincoln and Southwest Baptist — will compete in the Great Lakes Valley Conference in football this season.
For the first time, the MIAA will play a complete round robin, 11 conference games, and the MIAA ranks annually among the nation’s toughest conferences.
A selection committee picks the 24-team field and, without head-to-head or common opponents among teams from different conferences in the region, records are often used to separate teams.
Boerigter sounded something of a signal to the rest of the region, which includes two other conferences, that top MIAA teams might not have stellar records in the new scheduling format but should be given every consideration in the postseason selection process.
“I would be less than honest if I said I was confident (in the selection process), but I am optimistic,” Boerigter said. “If it comes down to a situation where things are really, really close, then I am confident our team will get the bid because of what we’ve done historically.”