KJCCC and Wichita Wind Surge announce historic football game at Riverfront Stadium

Charles Chaney Billy Watson
Butler County Times Gazette
(From L-R) Mark Patrick, Jordan Kobritz, Carl Heinrich, Brand Whipple and Tim Grubbs all pose for pictures after announcing the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference and the Wichita Wind Surge, partnering with the City of Wichita will host the KJCCC conference championship on Nov. 21 at Riverfront Stadium.

WICHITA — The Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference announced a partnership with the Wichita Wind Surge to play the 2021 KJCCC Conference Championship game at Riverfront Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 21.

The conference and the Wind Surge announced this Thursday afternoon in the Fidelity Bank Bravely Onward Club at Riverfront Stadium. 

The KJCCC is returning to the playoff format which has been a welcomed sight to those within the conference after a few close calls within the standings and the addition of the NJCAA football playoffs allows a chance to make sure a team from the KJCCC is represented in the national playoff. 

“Riverfront Stadium was designed and built as a multi-purpose venue,” said Wind Surge CEO Jordan Kobritz. “When the KJCCC approached us with the idea of holding their 2021 Conference Championship game in Wichita we said, ‘Why not?’ We've had baseball and now we're going to have the first football game."

The format for the conference playoff is every team qualifying from the conference, where they will be seeded 1-8, with the higher seed hosting. Then, the higher seed will host as No. 1 vs. No. 8 will play, No. 4 vs. No. 5 and 2 vs. 7 will play No. 3 vs. No. 6. The two winners of the semifinal games will meet at Riverfront in what should be an understood play-in game. 

Wichita Wind Surge Partner/CEO Jordan Kobritz speaks during Thursday's press conference remarking the announcement of Riverfront Stadium hosting the KJCCC conference tournament championship game Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021 at 1 p.m.

The conference made the decision to bring back the conference playoffs in the offseason after not having it for the last seven seasons. Previously, the playoff was a four-team system, with the higher seed hosting each round. Butler won the last playoff, a 24-21 win over Hutchinson. 

The following season, the KJCCC made their agreement with the ICCAC and thus came the end to the playoff. The two conferences are expected to renew their agreement and they'll schedule each other regularly once again.

"That depends on a lot if the NJCAA will allow us to play so many games," KJCCC President Carl Heinrich said. "We'd love to keep it but it's up to them."

Currently, there are only so many games you can play in the regular season. The question will be if the NJCAA will deem these games as regular season or postseason games, despite being conference playoff games. 

For both conferences, playing each other adds benefit overplaying a non-NJCAA school. It looks better to the rankings, as they are computerized, and provides better competitive games. 

"Maybe we can get the NJCAA to see the two regions play each other in a play-in game of sort," Henrich said. "That's a thought we've had."

An Idea coming together

The idea which has been in the mind of those at the conference since the creation of Riverfront Stadium was really put into motion when Hutchinson CC coach Drew Dallas threw out the first pitch at a Wind Surge game this season. Kobritz told Dallas if there was anything he could do for him to reach out and Dallas came back with "it would be nice to play a football game here."

From there, Dallas put the Wind Surge in touch with Hutchinson CC athletic director Josh Gooch, who forwarded the idea onto the conference.

"We had a meeting and frankly it was probably the easiest deal we ever put together," Kobritz said. "They (KJCCC) were really enthusiastic, they were really committed to do something unique."

Wichita mayor Brandon Whipple comments during Thursday's press conference for the announcement that Riverfront Stadium will be hosting the KJCCC football championship game Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021 at 1 p.m.

During the construction of the ballpark, an idea was thrown out to run the field to centerfield and Kobritz, who was on the design team as it was being built said that was not happening, forcing the adjustment to the left field fence being deep enough and straight enough to put a field onto the baseball diamond. 

After consulting with their groundskeeper, Ben Hartman, an estimate was drawn up and it's expected to be an expensive price tag to put the game on, just south of $100,000. 

"We're going into this realistically that we may lose money," Kobritz said. "We're hoping to break even but you have to spend money to make money. We're going in with our fingers crossed."

Local community colleges will help with the production of the game as it's expected Butler's Tyler Nordman and his staff will help with the broadcast of the game and Hutchinson's staff led by Steve Carpenter will manage the game day operations, such as statistics and other things. 

More:NJCAA regional basketball tournament moving to Tony Events Center in Salina for 2022 season

Playoff history

Over the 23 years of the playoff, also known as the Region VI Playoffs, only Highland has never won a conference playoff championship. Butler has won 17 of the 33 that have been played. 

It was a four-team playoff until 1990 when it expanded to an 8-team format. During that time, Garden City won all five of its championships. Four different teams won a championship during the 15 years of the 8-team format. 

The conference went back to the four-team format in 2006, that's where Butler dominated, winning seven of the eight championships until the end of the playoff in 2013. Fort Scott won the championship in 2009, beating Butler 13-12. 

Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference commissioner Carl Heinrich speaks during Thursday's press conference at Riverfront Stadium. The Wichita Surge and KJCCC announced the Jayhawk conference tournament championship game will be held at Riverfront Stadium Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021 at 1 p.m.

Potential NJCAA bowl game

Another reason for the partnership is to potentially bring an NJCAA bowl game to Riverfront Stadium. While Kansas has seen its share of bowl games, such as the Citizen's Bank Bowl (Pittsburg), Dalton Defenders Bowl (Coffeyville), and the still-active Salt City Bowl (Hutch) just to name a few. 

One major hang-up to getting a bowl game at Riverfront is a title sponsor. If the league can find a sponsor, they will put a bowl game in downtown Wichita. 

While there aren't many bowl games in the NJCAA, there were only five the last time the NJCAA played bowl games, which could provide another opportunity for rewarding teams in the postseason while those play-in the national playoff. 

"It was supposed to be multipurpose," Kobritz said. "The other thing is if you can put a football field in there you can also put a hockey rink (and) a soccer field."

Before his passing, Wind Surge majority owner Lou Schwechheimer said they would have other activities at the stadium when baseball wasn't going to be played — and he mentioned football. While a junior college game was never mentioned, there was talk of high school teams playing games. 

Currently, there are no plans to play any high school games at the stadium but it's not completely ruled out. 

"Depending on how much gray hair or how much here at all I have left after this game, it may be the only football game in the history of multipurpose riverfront stadium," Kobritz said jokingly. "Seriously, we're all excited about this."

More:How NJCAA football expanded their playoff format

Playing football games on a football field is no real mystery to football fans nor is it playing junior college football in Wichita as Butler has played games at Wichita State's Cessna Stadium and the Region VI Championship has been there a few times, most notably 2005-2008.

This is the layout for the championship Game

The field will run north and south, with the third-base line as a sideline. The conference said with left field fence being straight, it provides the right dimensions to play football in the stadium.

Hartman will sod the infield so players will not be sliding around on dirt as anyone would see at Oakland Colosseum.

Tickets go on sale beginning at 10 a.m. Friday at https://www.milb.com/wichita. Tickets will start at $20. 

"This is going to be very exciting for Wichita and surrounding communities," Kobritz said. "This could be a large recruiting tool as local high schools will get to see top talented NJCAA teams in a Championship venue."

KJCCC Quarterfinals

Sunday, Nov. 7

Game 1: No. 8 seed at No. 1 seed

Game 2: No. 5 seed at No. 4 seed

Game 3: No. 7 seed at No. 2 seed

Game 4: No. 6 seed at No. 3 seed

KJCCC Semifinals

Sunday, Nov. 14

Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, higher seed hosts

Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, higher seed hosts

KJCCC Championship Game

Sunday, Nov. 21

Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner

Charles Chaney has been the Sports Editor for the Butler County Times-Gazette since Aug. 2019. You can reach him at cchaney@butlercountytimesgazette.com or on Twitter at @ChuckChaneyBCTG.