BIIF to avoid mismatches, but D-II Konawaena in tight spot

Konawaena’s Chauncey Mariani-Louis (9) scored a touchdown in the 2017 state final that went seven overtimes. The Wildcats will likely be forced to move up to Division I in 2019. Photo by Dennis Oda/Star-Advertiser.

Changes are coming to the Big Island football hierarchy whether smaller schools like Konawaena like it or not.

It is a classic trickle-down, or trickle-up, scenario. And the dominoes are falling.

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported today that the Big Island Interscholastic Federation will avoid mismatches between Division I dynasty Hilo and recent eight-man football convert Kohala by using a divisional scheduling format. But the chain-reaction result is that D-II powerhouse Konawaena, and D-II Honokaa, are likely to move up to D-I.

Here’s what triggered it during this offseason.

First, Pahoa decided a few months ago to walk away from eight-man football and enter the fray of Division II in the BIIF. Despite decades of flaky in-and-out participation, the Daggers have been consistently committed in recent years, and the numbers have been in the 30-player range. Too many for eight-man, and probably sustainable at 11-man.

That led Ka‘u, the eight-man champion and annual eight-man powerhouse, to read the writing on the wall. With no Pahoa, Ka‘u would be in eight-man with Kohala. Not feasible, so Pahoa opted to move up to 11-man D-II as well. And Kohala has no choice but to follow, despite having the lowest roster numbers over the years. Coach Chad Atkins is optimistic there about getting more participation from players who were in Pop Warner Unlimited play last fall.

With these former eight-man teams joining D-II, Honokaa very recently decided it wants to return to the world of D-I, but has not yet officially declared for D-I. Honokaa was one of the last programs in the BIIF to move down to D-II after struggling in D-I. The Dragons won the BIIF D-I championship in 2009, losing to Farrington 48-16 in the state tournament. Honokaa would seem to be a better fit in D-II, but with former coach Fred Lau in charge, expectations have risen.

Remaining teams in D-II like Kamehameha-Hawaii and Hawaii Prep will stay put. KS-Hawaii will lose a strong senior class to graduation, but is likely to contend again for the D-II title.

If KS-Hawaii stays in D-II and has a diminished schedule in the eyes of some coaches and players, there is a possibility that some of the Keaukaha-based student-athletes there will transfer to Hilo. That would only make the BIIF’s D-I dynasty even stronger. The Vikings were D-I state champions in 2017 and were state runners-up last fall.

With Honokaa on the brink of moving up, Konawaena is waiting. The Wildcats will likely move to D-I rather than play everyone, including the recent eight-man programs, twice. So, if Konawaena moves to D-I, Honokaa will follow. That would give the BIIF seven D-I teams and four in D-II. Migration from one classification to another can be a tricky thing.

Defending BIIF D-II champion Konawaena, with an enrollment of less than 900, nearly won the D-II state title in 2017, losing in six overtimes to Lahainaluna, 75-69. The Lunas, unlike Konawaena, have no need nor intention to move into D-I. Konawaena, which will host Mission Viejo (Calif.) in August, could remain in D-II.

“I feel like staying down, but it doesn’t benefit anyone,” Wildcats coach Brad Uemoto said. “The problem is when we talk about the state-level teams in D-II, we are perfectly placed to compete. That’s my dilemma.”

Unlike Lahainaluna, which plays a fully meshed schedule against D-I and D-II teams in the Maui Interscholastic League, Konawaena would be limited to D-II competition in the BIIF.

Though there is no word from the league, generally, more D-I football members means larger attendance thanks to varsity and JV fan support. Konawaena has a competitive JV team, while HPA has not fielded JV in decades.

“I will not risk playing a D-II schedule with no JV games and the possibility of the former eight-man teams forfeiting games,” Uemoto said.

Of course, there are other domino possibilities. What if Kamehameha-Hawaii decided to take the leap, as well, and move to BIIF D-I? That would leave BIIF D-II with Hawaii Prep, Pahoa, Ka‘u and Kohala. All to make sure coaches and players at KS-Hawaii stay put. That would create a BIIF D-I of: Konawaena, Kealakehe, Honokaa, Hilo, Waiakea, KS-Hawaii.

That scenario is unlikely. More likely is former eight-man teams forfeiting against the behemoth, Hilo. KS-Hawaii already forfeited a game against Hilo late in the 2018 regular season. Small programs like HPA forfeited a game here and there — usually against then-dominant Kealakehe — years ago when the schedule was fully integrated, D-I and D-II teams combined in a round-robin format.

The standing format right now, according to the BIIF, is six D-I teams and five in D-II. That would give the D-I teams — all have JV squads — a double-round robin of 10 total games in the regular season. The five teams in BIIF D-II would also have a double-round robin, for a total of eight games. It makes sense from a league-wide logistical standpoint. It just doesn’t make sense at the next level, the state tourney, for a program like Konawaena.

A tiered schedule that allows Konawaena to play D-I teams —as last year’s schedule did — while keeping the converted eight-man programs to avoid the likes of Hilo — might make sense on several levels. However, that concept is unlikely to be approved, Uemoto said.

Konawaena is likely to declare for D-I, but official declaration doesn’t have to be made until June. Fans at historic Julian Yates Field will be up for either division. The Wildcats were a BIIF dynasty in the 1980s and highly competitive in the pre-division years until moving down to D-II in the early 00s when the state went to two divisions. There are currently three divisions in HHSAA football: Open, D-I and D-II.

The BIIF will reconvene to determine schedules in April.


  1. The Rim March 12, 2019 8:42 pm

    KS Hawaii has no business staying in DII.

  2. BigIsleFootball March 13, 2019 12:17 am

    Hey, if Pahoa and Kau want to step up…then step up!!! They want to play with the big boys. but only the ones that they are comfortable playing. I get it safety is an issue, and they want to avoid blowouts. So while the 8 man teams can say we don’t want to play the top guns, a team like Konawaena or Honokaa might be forced to move up and play Hilo twice. And play the big enrollment schools twice also. I think Konawaena can be very competitive in D1 ont the Big Island, they are a better fit in D2 on the State level. Won’t Konawaena and Honokaa run the same risks for injury or a blowout that the 8 man teams do. I remember a few years ago Pahoa played the Konawaena J.V. team. Final score was something like 66 to 6 Konawaena J.V. won. JMHO but I think that they are biting off more than they can chew.

  3. KealaKoji March 13, 2019 7:23 am

    The move by 8 man teams to 11man is a bit premature. I think they run the risk of losing their program overall after a year or two due to potential blowouts leading to low morale and reduced numbers. By Pahoa’s initial declaration, it forced Ka’u and Kohala to move up, they didn’t want to and know they are not ready to…..neither is Pahoa. This has now forced the existing 11 man teams to make moves they don’t want to to avoid playing former 8 man teams for reasons the above article states. In the end , it will all be for nothing because those teams will either move back down to 8 man or not have program because of this hasty decision. Why don’t the 8 man teams just scheduled a couple of 11 man games during preseason and test the waters before taking jump feet first into the deep end of the pool. I guarantee you someone will drown!

  4. ILH March 13, 2019 9:43 am

    Ditto on what the Rim said.

    If we had a segment on our sports show like ESPN’s “Cmon Man!!”, we would be telling KS Hawaii “Cmon Kanakas!!!!”

  5. Ldub Twenty March 14, 2019 4:33 am

    The thing about this article that caught my eye is that Mission Viejo is playing Konawaena. Shouldn’t they improve their standards and play an open team here?

  6. KalihiFB March 14, 2019 3:52 pm

    To Ldub Twenty: I totally agree that Mission Viejo should be playing an open division team and not Konawaena. Mission Viejo went almost went undefeated in their California league this past season. Only lost is to national power house Mater Dei in the quarter finals.

  7. TeamHawaii March 14, 2019 6:36 pm

    Mission Viejo isn’t looking for competition. There regular season schedule is already tough. They’re just looking for an Hawaii opponent to play, so they can vacation here and still come up with the WIN and no injuries. They front all the funding for these trips, so money isn’t a issue. It’s a shame.

  8. Wainakea March 25, 2019 4:39 am

    Hawaii Prep have played games against D-I top dogs with low numbers. The trick here is that the only high enrollment school on the island is Kealakehe. All other schools hover around 900 minus the 8-man teams moving up. Hilo’s roster was around 30 last year, the same number Ka’u managed to get. Keaau had nearly 40 albeit half their roster being linemen. A round robin with 11 teams on the big island is logistically and financially a nightmare as this island is literally the “big island”. It only makes sense to split it in to two divisions. I don’t agree with 6 D-I teams though. KS-Hawaii should be the only team moving up.

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