Once again, the shuffle has a lot of longtime boys basketball fans stunned. This time, probably a lot more than usual.
Here’s a look at the Oahu Interscholastic Association boys basketball Red and White Conferences (Divisions I and II) now that teams have been moved up and down.
Red Conference, East Division
Red Conference, West Division
* Promoted from Division II (White Conference)
White Conference, East Division
White Conference, West Division
** Demoted from Division I (Red Conference)
I’ve knocked on this door countless times before, but it’s still worth a thought and, maybe, more discussion. Hopefully, some real change will come of it.
Kalaheo in Division II? Farrington, which reached the D-I state tourney, back down in the White Conference? Take another look at the White Conference divisions and ask yourself, as the bouncy song by Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street goes, ‘Which of these four is not like the others? Come on, can you tell which one?’
The OIA’s revolving door opens every two years for evaluation, measuring a power rating that combines varsity and junior-varsity win-loss records.
Coaches had a postseason meeting on Monday and the shuffle had many scratching their heads. Sixteen-time OIA champion Kalaheo is one of four teams moving down to D-II. Kalaheo reached the playoffs this season and was ranked in the Top 10 from the start, but a poor JV win-loss record contributed to a low power rating. The demotion was inevitable.
Farrington, Kaiser, Waipahu and McKinley are also on their way to D-II. Farrington won the D-II state title two years ago and has developed under coach Allan Silva. Like Kaiser, the Govs will have a solid nucleus returning next season. As a school, Farrington has nearly 3,000 students — one of the largest enrollments in the state.
That’s where the debate over classification in Hawaii hits a wall. Forty-eight states base enrollment as the primary criteria in determining classification. Hawaii is the lone state that allows a league to use a power rating as a criteria — even though the National Federation of State High School Associations endorses a philosophy that strongly discourages the use of wins and losses in any classification-based format.
The players know
Two years ago, when Farrington knocked off Aiea for the boys basketball D-II state title, players from both teams had questioned whether they should’ve been in the lower classification to begin with. Aiea had been unbeaten in league play, winning 22 games in a row. Both teams had been competitive against “bigger” programs in D-I during preseason; there was no question they belonged in D-I.
However, due to OIA policy, the players and coaches were forced to play in D-II, which they recognized as a consolation division, truth be told.
The reality is that a large majority of teams in the OIA can — and do — compete at the D-I level. Nonconference/preseason matchups prove this every year. This season, Roosevelt and Kailua were among White Conference teams that had the size and talent to compete with D-I teams. Both teams are among those moving up to the Red Conference next season. In reality, Roosevelt, with 6-5 center Kaipo Pale, and Kailua, with powerful center Ikaika DeCorte, were good enough to compete for the Red title this year.
Old school: Efficiencies of geography
An expanded OIA Red — why send good programs like Farrington and Kalaheo down just because of a convoluted anti-NFHS formula — would increase efficiency and interest among everyone from fans to players.
The current shuffle has its oddball components, as well. Because the OIA Red is split into geographical divisions, the promotion and demotion of teams requires some finesse in order to keep each side at nine teams.
Several coaches in basketball and football have suggested that the OIA would serve itself much better by returning to district formats. In the 1980s, the league had Leeward, Central, Honolulu and Windward districts. Waianae, for example, had a solid boys hoops team this year and would have played its district teams twice (home and away) and nearby Central teams like Leilehua and Mililani once.
With budget cuts and transportation costs at a premium, a schedule of closer rides means lower bus rental costs.
The more radical possibility would be to allow all competitive teams to play in Division I while reducing D-II (White) to just four or five programs — the ones with small enrollments, in particular. A five-team White Conference can play home-and-away to fill its schedule out.
An 18-team Red Conference would remain in its West-East format and have its home-and-away district battles. A nine-team East, for example, would still have 11 to 12 games per team in the regular season.
One of the OIA’s concerns about a larger Red Conference and smaller White has been about state-tournament berths. The league has said it doesn’t want more state berths in Division I, and in fact, would like to see state tournaments reduced.
Again, players and coaches have never wanted state fields to be reduced; that happens as a byproduct of budget cuts.
The current 14-team Red Conference resulted in six D-I state berths this season. Extending the Red to 18 teams would probably mean seven berths — not much of a difference.
The next time OIA basketball minds meet — a coaches committee has been formed under second-year league coordinator John Chung, a former championship coach at Roosevelt — there may be another long discussion about classification. Doubts about sending Kalaheo to Division II might arise again. Coaches could mention the difficulty of motivating seniors to play their best against a struggling White Conference team. Athletics is the one realm where youngsters are challenged to fulfill their potential as a team and as individuals, right? They deserve the best challenge possible, no question, and that doesn’t come often enough in the White Conference.
White Conference players who know that their teams belong in the Red (such as Farrington, Kalaheo, Waipahu, Kaiser) will be powerless — and voiceless — once again. There was a time when the OIA was the progressive, creative leader of classification, creating a three-tiered format for football (Red, White and Blue).
In basketball, though, classification is barely needed.
Any concerns about a lack of OIA state berths in Division II is moot. Pahoa proved last week that interest in a truly small school from a neighbor island will always be as compelling, if not more, than seeing two large Oahu schools grind it out for the D-II title.
Kailua, a powerful team that reached the finals of the OIA White and D-II state tournaments, deserved a chance to play in the Division I state tourney. So did Roosevelt. Their players were never given that chance. Why limit their dreams?
You know who Division II should belong to
Barring massive development and growth in Pahoa, the Daggers will remain in D-II. They’re not part of an ongoing shuffle. Fans on Oahu know now, more than ever, what a D-II state crown means to a small community like Pahoa. It means just as much to communities at Molokai, whose Farmers won last year’s girls basketball title and finished second this year. It means a ton to programs like Kohala and Kapaa and Academy of the Pacific.
Work ethic, skill and commitment are rewarded when Division II is about communities and enrollment sizes. To send enormous schools into that realm is unnecessary.
So why do it? Are 48 other states wrong?
It’s time for the shuffle to end, at least in its current state. The deck has been stacked for too long against authentic Division II schools.
The exceptions, with no doubt, are smaller schools that request to move up and compete. The best example is Kahuku, which has a long tradition of excellence in D-I football and boys basketball.
For the most part, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find any team that volunteers to move down. I could poll the players at Kalaheo, Farrington, Kaiser and Waipahu about becoming White Conference members next season. I can almost guarantee that the feedback will be unanimously against moving down. Waipahu knows it can beat any Red team. Same with Kaiser, which will be senior-heavy and big. They’ve already done their share of winning at the D-I level.
There isn’t a single legitimate reason why a school with 2,000 to 3,000 students should compete with a school of 300 or less (Pahoa, Academy of the Pacific) in the same tournament for the same prize.
But it has continued this long, and just about everyone is still stunned.
Paul Honda, Star-Bulletin