It’s been about 12 years since I penned an outlandish idea about combining the elite football teams of the ILH and OIA into one conference. The increased attendance and revenue would benefit all of the schools in the two leagues. Fans would be intrigued by the reunion of old rivals.
Back in 2000 to ’02, I was an editor and writer for HSN magazine, covering high school sports. It gave me an opportunity to ask questions, so I did. When I broached the throwback idea — after all, the OIA and ILH had been combined until public schools defected in 1970 — to then-OIA chief Dwight Toyama in 2000, he pointed out the basic reasons why he didn’t visualize a reunion.
>> 1. ILH has superior resources
>> 2. ILH has superior facilities
>> 3. ILH has direct feeder programs (intermediate football)
The third reason tied into one of Toyama’s dreams: a middle-school athletics program for public schools. (Years later, this idea is beginning to bear fruit.) He had one more point, to boot. If the ILH insisted on more state berths, then maybe, just maybe, the public schools would be wiser to start their own state tournament. It was, for Toyama, all about a level playing field. Fairness.
I took his points to heart. As a public-school graduate, I know well the difficulty of any sports program with limited budgets and, of course, the severe limitations of district boundaries. But what few administrators are willing to discuss is the ‘R’ word: recruiting.
It’s the biggest reason why the public schools walked out and formed the OIA, and it still goes on. Not outright letter-of-intent signing to play for the ILH’s name-brand schools, but there’s no question that financial aid and scholarships are coveted by most student-athletes and their families.
This has always been. It always shall be. The food chain is the food chain. In Hawaii, education is highly valued. So are successful sports programs, and there’s no doubt that the elite private schools will always have the support of their alumni.
I certainly understand the concerns of public school administrators and coaches. Why compete in a league against a world of big, big money? The plausible question would be this: If a school like Punahou could swipe much of the finest public-school talent in the 1960s, why wouldn’t it do the same today?
And yet, there is hardly an athlete or coach in the public schools who wouldn’t want to play the best, the very best, at any time. And especially in the same league, for the state championship, or even in an exhibition/preseason game. This is the Aloha State, but it is also a highly competitive state that produces one of the highest rates, per capita, of college football players.
And beyond that, let’s face it. The finest private schools often attract top talent today anyway, with or without a “superconference.”
This is about something dreamy. Fantastical. Here’s what a 2013 version of three divisions would look like through Pupule-tinted spectacles.
SuperConference (a.k.a. Division I)
- Saint Louis
10 teams, one round-robin, nine regular-season games.
Regular-season winner: state-tournament berth.
Playoffs: Top four teams advance to championship bracket. Teams 5 through 8 advance to ‘B’ bracket and the winner gets the fifth and final state berth. (This is based on an expansion of the Division I state tourney from six teams to eight, which was the original format.)
- Pearl City
Divisional round robin (six games) followed by a 12-team playoff tournament.
Note: Divisional (regular-season) winners qualify for automatic state berths. The remaining two state berths will be determined by playoff finish.
- St. Francis
Double-round robin. The first year (or two) are strictly exhibition status until other leagues start D-III. (HHSAA requires at least three participating leagues before sanctioning any state tournament.)
With this format, there will be a home for all teams in Division II regardless of enrollment size. Smaller programs can opt for D-III. No larger school (roughly 1,200 students or more) can move down to D-III. Any program can petition to play up in a higher division.
It’ll be fun, as always, to compare notes, to tweak, to absorb better ideas, bury bad ones… but there’s always this. The ILH has voted against every proposal at HIADA (Athletic Directors annual conference) that recommended expansion of the D-I state tournament. No “superconference” proposal has ever been discussed, at least in my memory.
The ILH votes with the OIA against change that would permit more ILH teams in the state football tournament. There’s no reason to believe that stance will chance anytime soon. That’s why I call this superconference more of a fantasy than anything, emphasis on ‘fan.’
But it’s worth discussing at this point, especially in light of blowout games, mismatches, and as Dave Reardon has penned recently, the possible growing threat of serious injuries.