Division II Tournament Finds A Home In Carolina
The NCAA will renew its contract with the town of Cary, N.C., and the USA Baseball National Training Center as the site for the Division II World Series.
To many, Cary has already become a mainstay in the D-II vocabulary just as Omaha, Appleton and Grand Junction are in Division I, D-III, and junior college competition. The USA Baseball facility hosted the tournament for the past three seasons and will now do the same through the 2013 championship.
"The first thing (head) coach (Mike Jeffcoat) said this year was we want to get to North Carolina. We want to make it to Cary," said West Florida senior ace Daniel Vargas-Vila, who shared Most Outstanding Player honors this year as the Argonauts won the national championship. "We have a picture of the field hanging in our locker room, so I definitely think Cary is somewhere that guys think about when they talk about the World Series."
The USA Baseball complex is a scene any college athlete would swoon over, and with neighboring sites like the North Carolina and Duke campuses, most players don't want to leave. "I've really liked it here in Cary," Vargas-Vila said. "The field is awesome; the hotel is phenomenal; everything has been really great."
However, there is also plenty of competition for fans' attention. The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Durham, a D-I regional in Chapel Hill, and the North Carolina high school state championships all coincided with the opening and national championship rounds of the D-II World Series this year.
"This is the last stop for a lot of (the players), and it's something we'll always remember so it'd be nice to see a bigger crowd in the stands," Vargas-Vila said. "It's tough to get a crowd when it feels like 114 degrees, though."
Appleton, Wis., has set a high standard since it began hosting the D-III championship in 2000. Johns Hopkins (Md.) head coach Bob Babb has brought his team to Appleton two of the last four years and says the level of interest in the area is nearly unrivaled.
"The community really gets behind it, probably more so than any other venue that D-III has had in the past," Babb said. "When we were there, each team had two or three locals that sponsor the team for the week. Last year, when we landed in Milwaukee, they had the tall sausage heads from the Brewers and a band meet us at the gate. They are very, very supportive and make it a great experience to be in the Fox Cities."
This year, there was a notable difference in average attendance between the two levels. The D-III World Series averaged more than 1,600 fans a game, while D-II saw about 600. The median attendance may be more telling, however, as there were 1,656 for D-III and just 476 in Cary.
Appleton's success could be rooted in Wisconsin's Division III tradition—there is no baseball program at the main Madison campus, so some of the most supported teams tend to be D-III squads like Wisconsin-Whitewater, Stevens Point, and Oshkosh. Although D-II co-host Mt. Olive (N.C.) College attracted fans of its own to the event in Cary this year—collecting two of the top three attendance figures—the school is home to roughly 850 students, so the area would hardly be considered a small-college hotbed like Appleton.