It’s been one week since the Hawaii High School Athletic Association executive board voted to create a three-tiered state football tournament format.
Did that really happen? Pinch me.
Sure enough, it happened, and now the general public will get a taste of what it has been clamoring for for a long time.
From this subjective vantage point, the new format is a BEAUTIFUL THING. I don’t speak for everyone in Hawaii, but most people we’ve asked are attracted to the idea of more competitive balance and safety.
The HHSAA didn’t go as far as the proposal that was submitted earlier this year, which called for an Oahu Interscholastic Association and Interscholastic League of Honolulu alliance that would have put $35,000 into every Oahu football-playing school’s budget for three straight years.
But what the HHSAA and its five member leagues did do was create a fantastic scenario where the big boys play the big boys, the medium boys play the medium and the little guys play the little. Boys is somewhat of a misnomer here because girls play football too, just not that many.
Instead of a power conference in which the 10 best teams in the state play each other in the regular season (as was proposed), we now have a POWER state tournament in which those programs who desire to be numero uno at the tippity toppity of levels will play for overall bragging rights.
That division is called OPEN, and rightly so. You got what it takes? Then set your sights on the Open division championship.
By creating this Open division, the HHSAA has ELEVATED THE ELITE and that’s something that has been needed in Hawaii.
And one of the best things about the new format is that it leaves Division I and Division II virtually unchanged, other than the top-notch schools moving up from D-I to Open.
There is an odd case for ‘Iolani, but it’s not the Raiders’ fault that they are the only team left in the ILH that is classified as D-I and therefore get a free pass (at least this year) into the D-I states. They dominated the state at the D-II level and were hounded by the public to move up. They finally moved up to D-I and now they’re getting hammered for being there. Just remember, Punahou, Kamehameha and Saint Louis opted to go to Open from D-I, and Damien, St. Francis and Pac-Five decided to remain in D-II.
So, now does everybody want ‘Iolani to go back down to D-II? Don’t be silly. The Raiders have been theoretically in the middle between D-I and D-II so long and now you want to punish them for being where they seem to belong? They were not really a D-I team last season, but now with the power three moving up, they are a PERFECT FIT for D-I.
Speaking of PERFECT FITS, take a look at the teams that would have been in the three tiers if this format was part the state tournament last season.
>> OPEN: Kahuku, Mililani, Waianae, Farrington, Saint Louis, Punahou. (How awesome is that?)
>> Division I: Hilo, Baldwin, ‘Iolani, Kailua, Kealakehe, Kapolei, Moanalua, Campbell (How awesome is that?)
>> Division II: Radford, Nanakuli, Damien, Lahainaluna, Konawaena, Kapaa (the same teams who actually played for the D-II state title last season and it was filled with epic games).
There have been some who feel the ILH is getting a great deal because, for the first time since the state tournament began in 1999, it will get two teams into the highest division. Some feel the ILH doesn’t need an extra advantage, since those schools can offer monetary help for athletes.
But what some don’t realize is that the ILH does not dominate the Division I state tournament. Of the 16 years of the event, OIA teams have won it 10 times.
“The public schools don’t get enough credit for their success in the state tournaments,” former HHSAA executive director Keith Amemiya said. “Some people assume that the private schools dominate, but the facts show otherwise, particularly in the team sports. Time and again, the public schools have shown that they can rise to the occasion and hold their own with the private schools, and I’m confident that the three-tier football tournament results will be no different in the long run.”
Amemiya worked behind the scenes to gather support for the new format, much like he did when he helped usher in Division II to football in 2003.
Others feel that teams from the Neighbbor Islands aren’t getting a fair shake by not being named to the Open, but all three outer-island leagues voted in favor of the format at the HHSAA executive board meeting.
And, when you get right down to it, now those strong teams from the Big Island Interscholastic Federation and Maui Interscholastic League — such as Baldwin and Hilo — have a real chance at bringing home Division I hardware. No BIIF or MIL teams have made it as far as a a D-I championship game.
Plus, it hasn’t been fully reported before, but the BIIF and the MIL were asked if they wanted to take part in the Open division this season and both declined.
It might seem like a small thing, but these schools get to retain that Division I status, something they would not have been able to do do, say, if the new divisions were named D-I, D-II and D-III. Just another reminder that D-I and D-II are STAYING VIRTUALLY THE SAME, with the exception of the ELEVATION OF THE ELITE to the Open division.
Eventually something similar needs to be done for the regular season to avoid the blowouts we’ve been seeing — like Kahuku 50, Aiea 7, and Mililani 42, Castle 0. Competitive balance? What competitive balance? There is also that safety factor that comes into play when a team, such as McKinley last season, is barely able to find enough players to put on the field and is putting inexperienced players into the front lines of games against powerhouses like Kahuku and Waianae. We could look up the scores from last season, but, without checking, we already know the Tigers gave up close to 200 points and scored 0 against the Red Raiders and Seariders combined.
Do we really want that? Does anybody in their right mind want that?
Definitely not. Change is called for in a big way here, and according to HHSAA executive director Chris Chun, the people in power are listening and that’s why change has begun.
This new format is a GREAT first step. When we’re watching, squads like Baldwin, Hilo, maybe Leilehua and, er … why not? … ‘Iolani in the Division I state semifinals, pinch me again. That would be unreal and … it’ll be the way it’s supposed to be (from this vantage point). Of course, the Mules still have a shot at the Open if they continue to improve as the season goes on.
Who ya’ got in D-II — Lahainaluna, Konawaena, Kapaa … or St. Francis, or Damien or Pac-Five … or any number of D-II classified schools that could get hot at the right time?
And the Open division, well, if you want the ABSOLUTE BEST schools to be in it, you’ve got just what you want.
Three tiers. It makes sense. With more competitive games, revenue and fan interest is likely to rise considerably.
There are those who are still against it. But, seriously, from a fan’s perspective, what’s not to like?