The NAIA, with former local members Shorter University and Berry College having jumped to NCAA ranks, says its members have expressed a desire to play their big game in an NAIA hometown, although Rome is going to be invited to bid anyway.
That last is a bit odd, in that Rome already had a contract, now broken by mutual agreement, as host through 2015. Perhaps the NAIA, which has moved this game around a lot during its history (almost 30 sites since 1956), knows it is going to be hard to find anything quite as good as Barron and hopes members will come around because the organization likely knows no better facility can be found. Probably won’t matter. The SEC championship game is never going to be played in Buffalo, N.Y., either.
Sure, the NAIA hookup was part of the sales pitch used to convince voters in 2009 to invest, via SPLOST, $3,369,000 in stadium improvements including an artificial-turf playing surface. However, playing just as large of a role was just saving Barron forever where it is — remember the outburst of nostalgia and opposition that just before had greeted the plans, complete with architect’s renderings, to tear it down and build a new one next to the Rome Braves baseball park? As for how successful the NAIA “bowl game” has been, that’s depends on who’s looking.
ACCORDING to Rome Host Committee figures, the games have on average brought in $1.5 million of added economic activity each year. Certainly, there has been new name recognition nationwide — OK, not much but some for sure — has been brought to Rome by the game being nationally televised. And remember the game photo that made the cover of Sports Illustrated? Every little bit of publicity for our shared hometown helps in the competition to gain new business, industry, residents.
On the other hand, the crowds clearly did not overflow the 6,500 Barron seats and while drawing cheers from local sponsors the “big game” didn’t exactly become a “hot ticket” locally.
Still, given the very positive reactions by the actual teams, their fans and alumni who did attend about both Barron and the friendliness and charm of our community the real problem is that the NAIA, even without Shorter (Berry won’t even field a football team until next year) only had a handful of its 81 competing members learn what Barron/Rome had to offer. There’s nothing for the huge majority of NAIA members to miss by leaving as only four of them have thus far made it to the top game in Rome.
So, Greater Romans now find themselves reminded more of missed opportunities than some notion of being “left holding the bag.” By the way, the artificial turf is no huge deal. Romans tend to have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world. Calhoun High plays on a carpet; there never has been any “bowl game” there.
The NAIA game was only one weekend a year after all. What about all those other weekend dates where nothing is going on at Barron?
SURELY, besides the once-a-year band festival held on the field there exist other musical opportunities. Granted, there’s a current fixation on all things football. What if that’s a fad? More than 50 years ago football was small potatoes compared to baseball in these parts. More than 100 years ago baseball was nothing compared to horse racing (Rome had two tracks).
That’s a top-notch, multi- purpose facility this community has that now looks pretty darn good and can handle pretty much anything that comes along. Opportunity beckons more than it has been lost.
Barron now has an eight-lane competition-level track that can handle championship events. It is available day or night under the lights. The field is equally suitable for soccer, lacrosse, rugby, field hockey or whatever championships. It is a hop, skip or stride from entertainment, shopping, dining and appears destined to soon have quite a few places to sleep comfortably close by (Hawthorn Suites with plans to expand, Days Inn, both a Marriott and Fairfield showing interest in becoming part of the scene).
Even more football, for that matter. There are high school and even NCAA playoffs where competing on “neutral fields” is desired. However, forget about going after the NCAA Division II and III championship games. Yes, they have them, too.
IF SHORTER ever makes it that far with its new emphasis on athletic prowess it would play at Braly Stadium in Florence, Ala. (14,000 seats, three-story press box, national television). If Berry makes it to the top of Division III it would play in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl at Salem (Va.) Stadium (7,000 seats, nationally televised, 5,000-seat arena for Division III basketball championship right next door).
What’s interesting is that both those venues are also in the South, public-owned and started off exclusively for the use of the local high school … just like Barron … and looking/offering nothing like what they do now.
Rome had hoped to imitate this with the NAIA — still might though that now looks like a longshot primarily because Shorter University decided to seek more prestigious pastures and the NAIA clearly is not fond of its date running off with another guy. Can’t blame it for that.
Greater Rome is hardly unusual in having a tendency to boo-hoo about things lost. Greater Rome has also been pretty good about identifying opportunities that others have missed. That’s what the Tennis Center of Georgia proposal is all about — getting there firstest with the mostest.
Which brings us back to Barron Stadium, which is the mostest in the immediate vicinity already. Even if the NAIA changes its mind — and let’s express doubt they can do much better than what Greater Rome provided them — this facility needs to become firstest in other realms. Track and field may be the best bet but with amateur or league soccer not far behind.
LET’S QUIT kicking our local officials and civic boosters — and the majority of voters, for that matter — for somebody else’s decision. Let us instead start kicking some ideas around. Barron is there; it is ready to go for whatever awaits. What it needs now, even more than the “VIP Pavilion” notion floated out right before the NAIA decision was announced, is identification of what will be its — and this community’s — “next big thing.”