The first two weeks of the prep football season offered a mix of questions and validation of the superpowers in the ILH and OIA.
Neighboring rivals Mililani and Leilehua meet for battle on Friday night, and traditional rivals Kahuku and Waianae tussle on the Leeward Coast. Division II gets quite a spotlight, as well, when 1) Damien hosts a mainland school at what is now the busiest football hub in town, Skippa Diaz Stadium, and 2) Aloha Stadium hosts an OIA D-II doubleheader on Saturday.
The biggest questions are about schedule changes due to forfeitures. While Kalaheo is back on the gridiron, Kaiser has forfeited its game at Radford. That makes it three forfeitures, two of them regular-season contests, by the Cougars due to a lack of eligible/healthy players.
That raises the question of whether Kaiser could or should have forfeited the entire season. A few weeks ago, the school indicated to Star-Advertiser writer Nick Abramo that it would possibly forfeit half of its games in a rugged OIA D-I schedule that includes defending league champion Kahuku.
With 8-man football stabilizing in the Maui Interscholastic League and Big Island Interscholastic Federation, the seemingly logical solution for Kaiser would be to form a separate league with other struggling programs.
However, this appears unlikely in the OIA. Any number of schools that would pull out of regular, 11-man football to play 8-man would have a measured effect on the total revenue generated by football. The league depends on that football revenue to support athletic programs.
In addition, interest and numbers at potential 8-man programs has never really sprouted. Anuenue was the most recent program to fold, and there has been no resurgence at the varsity or JV level. Kalaheo and Kaiser might be interested, but would not have automatic league-wide support.
In the ILH, administrators at many of the smaller schools aren’t convinced that 8-man football would be in the best interests of their athletic programs. There’s the massive start-up cost, then the hope that there would be enough numbers and sustainable interest. Some schools, like Hanalani, have much more interest in year-round training for baseball than football.
Underneath all the challenges, most smaller schools don’t have the bulk and girth to put a formidable line on the field, even though it would take just a handful of blockers.
Kaiser’s struggle is a reflection of multiple factors converging in 2017: parental concern about head trauma via concussions; specialization in other sports like baseball, soccer and basketball; an aging community population. The program, which rose to prominence in the late 1970s with an Oahu Prep Bowl title under then-coach Ron Lee, returned to the headlines under Rich Miano with a D-II state title in 2013.
Since the departure of Miano and most of his staff, coupled with the implementation of the OIA’s new transfer rule, Cougar football hasn’t been the same.
Numbers are down to 19, and that includes injured and academically ineligible players. It certainly doesn’t help that Kaiser’s district has always funneled talent to programs in the ILH. As of 2016, plans to start a year-round youth program, much like Mill Vill, Kap City and other prominent clubs that feed high schools, were finally to begin in Hawaii Kai.
Meanwhile, neighboring Kailua has drawn the overlap-area players from Waimanalo. The Surfriders opened their season with a 44-0 win at Moanalua and will host Buckeye Union (Ariz.) on Friday.
As for top-ranked Saint Louis, the long wait is here. The Crusaders overwhelmed their first two foes, Waianae and Baldwin, and are nearly one week into a 19-day stretch between games. They don’t have a game until Sept. 1 against Kamehameha, and that will be followed by another bye week. That adds up to one game in a 33-day stretch.
With ‘Iolani back in D-II, Saint Louis, Punahou and Kamehameha will play only two league games in the league’s first round. Saint Louis also has an exhibition game with Narbonne (Calif.) on Sept. 23.
There is no chance on an interleague exhibition with an OIA school due to the OIA’s policy on in-season scheduling. All of this makes the concept of a much clamored for merged football schedule compelling to the ILH, but with the OIA holding the best cards, including a live-TV deal, the state’s biggest league has no reason to change a thing.
If anything, the OIA may prefer to slice its cake just 22 ways for its 22 football-playing members rather than ever add the seven football programs of the ILH, especially when only three of them draw consistently large crowds. In the past, and seemingly in the present, the public-school league wants the biggest slice of the pie possible for each of its programs.
Individual OIA programs can always supplement their stream by scheduling an ILH powerhouse in preseason, which means at least $10,000 net after splitting gate revenue. Public school athletic programs aren’t scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel like they did during the budget-cut years, but every dollar still matters.
Meanwhile, in the upper echelons of ILH football, it’s not necessarily dollars that are scarce. It’s come to this: D-I is a powerful three-team league in football, and nobody else in the ILH wants in.