The National Junior College Athletic Association is bringing its football championship games to Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium for the next three years, state and city tourism officials announced Friday.
This contract amounts to four games because the association altered its schedule for this year’s season because of the pandemic. The first game at War Memorial is set for June 5. The others will be played this December then in December 2022 and 2023.
Gretchen Hall, president and CEO of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, said it partnered with the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism to beat out 12 other sites for this contract.
The parties are still negotiating final terms of the contract, and Hall said the potential economic impact of the deal hasn't been determined. She said the contract's worth depends on factors including ticket sales and which teams attend the championships.
“But we are obviously excited,” Hall added. “We're just thrilled for the announcement to showcase the return of events, shine some light at the end of this [COVID-19] recovery tunnel.”
According to its website, the NJCAA is the national governing body for two-year college athletics in the U.S. and is the nation's second-largest national intercollegiate sports organization — the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, being the largest.
The group has more than 500 member colleges competing in 28 different sports. The NJCAA says it hosts 52 national championship events each year.
NJCAA President and CEO Christopher Parker said the hospitality shown by local officials helped set Little Rock apart from other sites. He said Little Rock’s vision for the championships aligned with that of the NJCAA.
“We really looked at the things that make this possible … the experience for the fans, the experience for the student-athletes, the experience for the coaches/administrators, and all those fans who are coming here. It's very centralized. The area is beautiful,” he said.
“I haven't spent a lot of time in Arkansas. So just to be here the last couple of days and I see the area and see the stadium, the history and the tradition, it means something.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Stacy Hurst, director of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism, also attended the announcement. War Memorial Stadium is managed by the state's tourism department.
“This truly is an example of how we’re going to rebuild our city when you have this kind of iconic institution in War Memorial Stadium right here,” Scott said. “[Parker is] right. The likes of Cam Newton and many other NFL stars started right in junior college, so we’re grateful to have this start as we’re going to be a catalyst for the new South because of you and other institutions we’re bringing together.”