Every year, fans and members of the media like to discuss an Oahu Interscholastic Association and Interscholastic League of Honolulu merger for a football superconference.
Well, believe it or not, there was actually some official talks on a proposal by the OIA at its athletic directors meeting earlier this month. The proposal was shot down, but the fact that the league was talking seriously about it is news.
“We talked about it and it didn’t fly,” OIA football coordinator and Farrington athletic director Harold Tanaka said Wednesday.
It’s possible that the talks themselves are a small step in the right direction. The ILH is a small league, with only three (four, if you include ‘Iolani, which might be dropping back down after this season) Division I teams and it’s a struggle for them to make a full, competitive schedule.
The OIA, which puts its 23 football teams into two classifications (Division I and II) but competitively speaking has three tiers of strength, could also benefit from a merger by allowing its top teams to play against the iron of the ILH in the regular season, escalating competition and, mostly likely, profits at the gate.
Tanaka and other sources did not give official reasons why the proposal didn’t have legs. But the public-school OIA has, for years, been reluctant to discuss combining with the private-school ILH for football during the regular season. The main sticking point brought up most often has been the ILH’s ability to offer athletes from anywhere on the island scholarship money to attend a particular school. Many OIA athletic directors and coaches maintain that the OIA’s inability to award scholarships or to get players outside of their district creates an uneven playing field.
One veteran OIA coach who wanted to remain anonymous said he was “surprised” that the discussions were even on the table.
Tanaka did not discuss the specifics of the proposal, but several sources close to the situation said that one idea was to have the three ILH D-I teams —— Kamehameha, Punahou and Saint Louis —— play in an Open conference with seven teams from the OIA. Six of the seven OIA teams would most likely have been Kahuku, Mililani, Waianae, Farrington, Kapolei and Campbell, to be joined by one other —— possibly Kailua, Aiea or Leilehua.
One OIA coach said on Wednesday that the possibility was there for ‘Iolani and Damien to join the OIA middle-of-the pack schools in Division I and for Pac-Five and for St. Francis to join bottom-tier OIA schools in Division II.
A merger and/or three-tier classification could help schools in both leagues avoid some of the lopsided games that have been occurring in recent seasons. It would also help with safety issues, where a dominant football team is not playing against a school struggling to form a team or using less experienced players out of necessity.
“We’re (the OIA) slowly warming up to the idea,” another OIA coach said Wednesday. “It will probably happen eventually.”
One source said the idea of an OIA-only power conference, where just the perennially strong OIA teams move up into a division that’s smaller (eight to 10 teams) than the 14-team Division I (seven-team Red and Blue conferences) that’s used now, was also discussed and didn’t survive.
In a separate note, there is talk of the ILH trying to get one more team into the Division I football state tournament (the breakdown now is three OIA, one ILH, one Big Island Interscholastic Federation and one Maui Interscholastic League). That format is based on a formula that’s been used for many years by the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, which grants berths proportionate to the number of teams a league has competing. In simpler terms, the bigger the league, the more state berths.
So, for the ILH to get another team in the states, the HHSAA would have to make an amendment to its formula.