(Update 8 p.m. — Adds comments by Cal Lee.)
Response to the news that the change to the state football tournament format — to take effect immediately — was slow this afternoon.
A Star-Advertiser breaking news story shared the announcement by the Hawaii High School Athletic Association that the state tournament format would be altered as soon as this season. Open Division would be comprised of four OIA teams and two ILH squads. There would still be Division I and II tourneys with eight teams in each.
One coach who was available for comment on a busy Monday afternoon was Kapolei’s Darren Hernandez, whose team didn’t start practice until late afternoon. He has been a head coach or assistant coach for more than two decades, and was both perplexed and enthused by the news.
“This is crazy, but crazy good. I support this all the way and you can quote me on that,” he said. “My biggest concern is how short the seasons are. They’re ridiculously short. When I started coaching, the championship game was in the first week of December. I’m hoping the HHSAA will take this into account and make the season longer.”
“I love basketball and other sports, but football is king. Football is the cash cow. You’d think the leagues would want more games. How many basketball players (from Hawaii) made it to the NBA? How many sports can draw 30,000 fans to one game,” Hernandez added.
Saint Louis coach Cal Lee was intrigued by the news.
“I’m surprised and happy that we have a state tournament where we have the top teams playing for the state championship. Four OIA, two ILH, every game is going to be a sellout. The state tournament will have a great game in every game,” said Lee, whose Crusaders are among the title contenders again this season. “Well, we been trying to get two ILH teams in for a long time. Finally. It’s only fair for the kids. The top teams, don’t you want your best teams to be in there? This way, it’s fair.”
“It helps everybody. I don’t care about all the other stuff. I think about the kids,” he said. “That’s why we’re here to coach and I think this is great we can help them play at this level. And I believe the OIA coaches feel the same way, too.”
A multitude of blowout games is a key factor why the ILH went to exclusive league schedules in recent years. In the OIA, however, many Division I games in the first two weeks have been runaways.
“The OIA, as a coach, I don’t know who they are, but they’ve got to understand, football you’ve got to have a vision,” Lee said. “Can’t have it the same way. Football is going down, down, down. Have you seen some of the scores? Why would you have a kid getting beat up, mercy rule, no competition?”
The state tourneys for smaller programs are ideal, Lee said.
“I think if the kids win any division,” he said, “don’t they feel good about themselves, that they won something?”