Pilot program. Experiment. Mostly good results.
In this first try at state-tournament regionals, including sites on the neighbor islands, the HHSAA is winning. It’s not a complete victory, but the math is in the HHSAA’s favor. Comparing this year’s quarterfinal round to last year’s, the gross revenue is anywhere from $12,000 to $16,000 more in 2014. (More on that later.)
At the Lahaina Civic, Lahainaluna edged Maryknoll 61-57 in a thriller on Saturday. The quarterfinal drew 1,400 in paid attendance, easily the biggest crowd of the tourney so far in the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Division I Girls Basketball State Championships. Attendance would’ve been higher if not for a competing boys basketball game involving Lahainaluna, and an accident on the highway that created a delay and forced some fans to turn around and go back east.
The atmosphere at Lahaina was electric, Maryknoll coach Chico Furtado said. Lahainaluna coach Todd Rickard has seen Luna fans travel near and far in droves. Having a rare state-tourney game in Lahaina was a relief.
“Our fans will travel with us no matter what. Because of the accident on the Pali (highway), there were still fans outside during the first quarter,” Rickard said. “I think we had more like 1,700. We would’ve had more if not for the action on the Pali and the boys (basketball) game.”
“It’s about time the Honolulu teams are doing the traveling like we have for years,” Rickard said. “I’m still all for just playing the whole tournament at one site and including the neighbor islands on an alternating basis (every third or fourth year). Then you can set up your travel plans in advance.”
Furtado still believes a traveling team, like Maryknoll, should get a full day in between games to make the trip rather than play on back-to-back nights on two islands.
“I wanted that, too,” HHSAA executive director Chris Chun said, referring to a Thursday/Saturday schedule rather than Friday/Saturday. “But the regional committee wanted back-to-back (dates).”
At Neal Blaisdell Arena, two D-I quarterfinal games and a D-II title matchup drew 1,100 fans. Chun was a bit surprised and pleased with that turnout.
Meanwhile, the Konawaena-Mililani game at Kealakehe High School drew 482 in another thriller — won by the visiting Trojans 54-51. But the HHSAA said actual paid attendance was just 230. That was a stunner for the HHSAA, since the Wildcat girls have won four of the last seven state titles.
On the same night, a boys senior-night game between host Konawaena and HPA, currently the leaders of D-I and D-II in the BIIF, easily outdrew the girls state-tourney game.
Some fans cited the distance to Kealakehe, which is roughly 17 miles from Konawaena. But there is still no explanation for why the boys game wasn’t changed to an earlier time or a different day, like Friday. In one explanation, the league apparently did not want both Hawaii Prep and Konawaena to have only one day of rest after their Wednesday games.
“Once the schedule is approved by athletic directors, if a school wants a change, it has to be agreed on by the two schools’ athletic directors,” BIIF executive director Lyle Crozier said. “I don’t know if they talked. They could’ve changed the date or moved it up earlier.”
Crozier was an AD at Konawaena for nearly two decades before becoming the league chief. Because of the distance from that campus to Kealakehe, he would’ve preferred a straight-out host site at the Wildcats’ gym. In that case, the gym would probably have filled up close to capacity (1,300).
“Maybe they should allow home teams to host a regional. That should be part of winning a championship,” he said.
That’s a touchy subject for some. Furtado noted that Lahainaluna plays its home games at the Lahaina Civic, essentially making its state-tournament quarterfinal game on Saturday another home game. Technically, however, the HHSAA recognizes an off-campus site as neutral.
“But is it really fair,” Furtado asked.
Crozier believes that if there hadn’t been a Konawaena-HPA boys game on Saturday, attendance for the the Konawaena-Mililani girls state-tourney game would’ve doubled to about 1,000.
Interestingly, before Konawaena and Hilo met for the BIIF girls title two weeks ago, Hilo had a contingency plan in place. Like Konawaena, Hilo’s boys team had a Saturday game, as well.
“If Hilo (girls) had won, they already had plans to move the boys game (against Kealakehe) to the daytime (on Saturday,)” Crozier said.
Instead, Konawaena edged Hilo 46-45 in the girls league final.
Still, Chun said the low turnout for the Konawaena girls game is not a game-changer. On the whole, this year’s quarterfinal round drew more than 2,800 fans at the three sites — far more than quarterfinal rounds of past years that were played only on Oahu.
In the previous format, the quarterfinals were played on Wednesday nights at two neutral Oahu sites, normally drawing less than 1,000 fans combined.
“I still like the format,” Chun said. “I still support it.”
Lahainaluna drew well. Konawaena, not so well.
“It just makes it harder when we go to HIADA (athletic directors annual conference),” Chun said. “And people say we shouldn’t travel to the neighbor islands for the state tournament.”
Another Big Island point of view
From the Konawaena perspective, there’s this. Bobby Command was one of the first to write and talk about quadrants, pods, regionals while he was sports editor at West Hawaii Today in the late 1980s. He now works for Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi, but still has close ties to BIIF sports and Konawaena, in particular.
>> HPA has a half-day of school on Saturdays, so a mid-day game (against Konawaena’s boys) was out of the question. A mid-afternoon time slot was still possible.
>> One lane was closed on the main highway. “Traffic in the afternoon was horrible. That probably scared off a lot of fans.”
>> Lahainaluna playing at the Lahaina Civic is a home game, period. “If Lahainaluna had to play in Kahului, they would’ve lost half the crowd. This is a major hypocrisy.”
To be fair, during the MIL season, Lahainaluna plays weekend games at the Civic and weeknight games at its tiny home gym (capacity 500). Weeknights are reserved for the youth league, Rickard said. The Lady Lunas had two games in the Civic during the MIL season.
>> A few years back, Konawaena’s football team traveled to Maui (to play Lahainaluna) and was required to fly the first flight (6 a.m.) on game day. Complaints by Oahu teams about travel inconveniences doesn’t get his sympathy.
>> Konawaena’s decision to leave things as is was smart. Fiscally, at least. Case in point: BIIF home teams keep the gate revenue for basketball games. With a crowd nearly filling up Onizuka Gym (capacity 1,300), creating slow traffic on the highway, it was a major event. Konawaena grossed roughly $6,000 (adult tickets $6, students $4).
“It was an unfortunate series of events, but everybody made the right decision,” Command said.
>> Whether it’s a profitable or break-even scenario for the HHSAA, they’re doing the right thing.
“What’s good is they’re spreading the travel burden out to Oahu schools.”
Command thinks the Big Island still deserves a chance to host future regionals in girls basketball.
“I’m not criticizing anyone. I’d like to see this continue. We were talking about regionals 25 years ago and a lot of people said it was a good idea. And Chris McLachlin had been talking about it 10 years before that,” he said.
“I wish Mililani the best. This probably helped them, facing adversity. That could help them win the state championship.”
He added this about the Wildcats.
“As long as everyone comes back last year, with Chanelle’s youngest sister coming up, I predict Konawaena will win the next two state championships.”
Back to the girls’ and boys’ games. By maximizing the revenue potential, Konawaena made somewhere between $5,000 and $6,000 from the boys’ game. The Wildcats lost to HPA, 53-52.
A final thought
Tweaks are part of pilot programs, and Chun will work on all the details that will improve the format.
For this Pupule, it’s a no-brainer. The first two rounds (aside from ILH-OIA, OIA-OIA matchups) should be at Oahu and Lahaina on a permanent basis. Lahaina just proved, with its 1,400 paying fans, that it is a true basketball mecca. I don’t think there has ever been a crowd of 1,400 for a girls basketball quarterfinal ever until this season, thanks to the Lunas and their fans.
(There was a full-house crowd three years ago for a Kamehameha/Kamehameha-Maui girls volleyball quarterfinal match at King Kekaulike. That was memorable.)
“If we got to host more games, I’d be all for it,” Rickard said. “The place was rocking (on Saturday). It was a great atmosphere. I’m pretty sure Coach Chico felt good about the turnout and the excitement.”
At Blaisdell, a championship round used to draw anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 fans, counting sparse attendance for all-day consolation games. The consolation games are no more, so the Friday (semifinal) and Saturday (final and third-place) games will be interesting to gauge.
“If we hosted a final here (in Lahaina), I guarantee you we’d have 2,500 people,” Rickard said. “That’s for real.”