The Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes expect a stiff challenge from Dickinson State (N.D.) in their quarterfinal game of the NAIA Football Championship Series Saturday afternoon at Graves Family Sports Complex.
It will be the latest in a week full of challenges for university administrators and staff leading up to the second playoff game in program history — the first last Saturday.
There are numerous financial and logistical obstacles to overcome, compounded by the Thanksgiving holiday break that begin just three days before kickoff.
Securing the $30,000 guarantee required by the NAIA to be a host site tops the lengthy to-do list. There's also such tasks as raising corporate sponsorships, providing meals for football players and staff while the university's cafeteria is closed, finding tailgate sponsors and workers, ticket sales and finding sufficient game-day personnel, among others.
"My colleagues have talked in the past about the challenge of hosting at Thanksgiving, for a variety of reasons," Kansas Wesleyan Director of Athletics Mike Hermann said Monday. "It's not easy."
Hermann and his staff were successful in hosting last Saturday afternoon's first-round game against Langston at GFSC, followed by an NAIA Opening Round men's soccer match that night.
"Salina does a great job hosting these events," Hermann said. "The people from Langston walked away saying this was well done from a game operations standpoint, it was well done from a hospitality standpoint, our hotels who participated did a great job. It was terrific across the board."
The Coyotes' 15-9 come-from-behind victory last week presents KWU with another opportunity and another set of challenges. Providing food for students is the first hurdle.
"Number two, we count on a lot of student help to run our operations, from selling tickets to running the concession stand and suddenly those students aren't there over Thanksgiving," Hermann said." Even some of your normal staff, with an unexpected situation like we have here, weren't planning on being here and didn't expect to be playing a football game at home and have plans that cause them to not be able to have their normal role as well."
All of this for a small institution that had no experience in serving as postseason hosts before last Saturday.
"There's no track record here of going back out to the community and saying 'hey, we're doing to do this again,' " Hermann said. "We know there's another $30,000 guarantee, would you be willing to help again?' "
Initial responses from local businesses were encouraging.
"I've already gotten a number of sponsors who have stepped up, that's been great," Hermann said Monday morning. "Salina, in lots of ways, has always answered the call for Kansas Wesleyan and I think this is another one of those times.
"We had about $20,000 in sponsorships for our opening game and a number of those people are stepping up to do it again here in the quarterfinal. I would love to have more people participate, I'd love to give businesses a chance to bring some of their customers or hard-working employees to the game to reward them and get out and have some fun with us on Saturday afternoon.
The benefits of having a home game were apparent Saturday, most notably the large crowd that braved frigid temperatures.
"There's a dollar benefit," Hermann said. "When you have a visiting team and their fans come to your community and spend money in your hotels and restaurant, those are dollars that go into this community, which is an important role that we play.
"Two, it's the exposure and the awareness. Another role we play is trying to enhance the quality of life here. By having a playoff-level game where people in Salina can come purchase a ticket and come watch a game is great."
Hermann has issued an all-hands-on-deck call for Saturday.
"I think you'll see people in the concession stands that are coaching other sports and doing different things to help make sure the popcorn is there and they get a good hot dog," he said. "I think they'll be recruiting their spouses and their kids as well."
The community has already stepped forward to make tickets available to area football players and at least two meals will be served to Wesleyan students who remain in Salina during the holiday.
"A member of the community agreed to step forward and to underwrite a hundred tickets for high school football players to get them out here," Hermann said. "We're reaching out to some of the high school coaches as well."
A group is sponsoring another edition of Coyote Thanksgiving at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Student Activities Center.
Tickets for Saturday's game go on sale in the KWU athletic department office Tuesday and cost $15 for adults, $5 for college students with an ID or youth up to age 17.
Tickets can also be purchased online at www.kwu.edu/boxoffice or at www.kwucoyotes.com with a link at the top of the page. Walk-up tickets will be on sale as well.
Businesses interested in sponsorships or helping in other areas are encouraged to contact Hermann at (785) 833-4410 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We're so fortunate to have back-to-back playoff games, only four sites in the country have that," Hermann said. "We're just going to try and keep it going and make it as fun for our community and our university as we can."