The high school state football championships will be held at the Naval Academy's Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium this fall, ending a 14-year run at M&T Bank Stadium, officials announced Aug. 15.
"The beginning stages of this were when the Ravens announced they were putting in a grass field for this upcoming season," Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletics Association executive director Andy Warner said. "Discussions with the Ravens' staff really brought to light that the four games in three days would be tough, especially because they had games taking place around that time period."
The MPSSAA football state finals are scheduled to take place Dec. 1-3, which is a Thursday-Saturday. One game will be played Thursday, one on Friday and then a doubleheader on Saturday.
On Nov. 27, the Ravens host the Cincinnati Bengals, while Dec. 4, the Ravens host the Miami Dolphins, meaning the field would host five games in four days -- plus a game the previous weekend.
Add to it that M&T Bank Stadium will host the Army-Navy game Dec. 10, and there were simply too many events happening on the new playing surface in a small window of time.
"We are learning about it as we go -- the maintenance of it. We felt the state championships this year would be too much," Kevin Byrne, Baltimore Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations, said. "With all those games and having a new field, we didn't want to take the risk that it would become unsafe."
When it became apparent M&T Bank Stadium wasn't going to be available this year, Warner and the MPSSAA began the process of looking for a new venue. He reached out to various facilities around the state to see if they would be interested. Those that were submitted proposals to see if they would be a good fit.
After looking through the various proposals, Warner had the opportunity to speak directly with a group from the Naval Academy. After the conversation, Warner was convinced he'd found the football state championships' new home.
"I think we were able to really explain our fundamental values and how they mesh well together," Warner said. "There's so much history at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. The opportunity for our student-athletes to travel to that facility, dress in those locker rooms, enter the field through their tunnel areas and play on that field is excellent. The place has the whole package, and I think it'll show the high quality of high school sports in our state."
The move has been well-received by the Maryland high school football community. While the student-athletes and school communities looked forward to playing in an NFL stadium, plenty think the move to a college venue has the potential to provide a better atmosphere.
When the finals were held at M&T Bank Stadium, only the lower bowl of the stadium was provided for seating, as that was usually enough to accommodate both schools. That left a lot of empty seats in the arena. There will be far fewer of those at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, which has a max capacity of 34,000 compared to 71,008 at M&T Bank Stadium.
This is something DaLawn Parrish, who coached Dr. Henry A. Wise High School (Prince George's County) to MPSSAA Class 4A state championships at M&T Bank Stadium in 2012 and 2015, thinks is a good thing.
"You'll get that college feel. The stadium at Navy will be conducive to holding those events," Parrish said. "Having it in our state's capital will be exciting, too. I have no doubt the kids will enjoy it. A state championship is a state championship; the kids will absolutely be excited."
That seems to be the overwhelming sentiment held by many. The venue of the event is important, as it provides the scenery for the drama unfolding, but is also serves as a reward for the teams that have had great seasons. However, the high stakes for the participating teams are what make the football state finals special.
"You're playing in a state championship game. If they asked us to play it in a parking lot, we would," Steve Crounse, who coached Patuxent High School (Calvert County) to the 2A state championship in 2015, said. "You're trying to be the best team in Maryland, and that isn't easy. It's prestigious, and the venue doesn't change that."