Many people think ‘Iolani playing Division I football for the first time since 2002 is the way it’s supposed to be. Obvious. A slam dunk.
Instead of continuing to win championships in Division II, many people shout that the Raiders should move up to play the iron of the ILH and the best in the state. And that’s exactly what ‘Iolani is going to be doing next fall because of a new ILH rule.
One can certainly argue that D-I is where ‘Iolani belongs. But, take a step back for a moment and look at some other factors before you judge them fit for duty in the upper division.
Wendell Look, the ‘Iolani coach, is a reasonable man, well-respected in state football ranks. He sincerely believes the Raiders belong in Division II. He feels that way mainly because the size of most of his players through the years is not comparable to some of the behemoths in Division I competition.
In addition, ‘Iolani has never enjoyed as much depth as many of the D-I teams. So, mainly, Look is thinking about the safety factor that could come in to play when his smaller players on his smaller roster go up against bigger players on teams with larger numbers of players.
The promotion to D-I means the Raiders will play six league games against the ILH’s Big 3 (two against each) instead of the three (one against each) in recent years.
Sure, ‘Iolani can compete against D-I teams. The Raiders have proven it. In 2009, they beat Punahou and Kamehameha, but that season was the exception, not the rule.
And it’s true that ‘Iolani has built a Division II dynasty. Since classification brought about the D-II state tournament in 2003, the Raiders have qualified 11 of the 12 years and have won the championship eight times.
It’s impressive, but it’s not being done with the brute force that the customary D-I powers have at their disposal. ‘Iolani does it more with coaching and smarts.
Mililani coach and ‘Iolani alumnus Rod York, who led his Trojans to the D-I title last season, had this to say about his alma mater: “ ‘Iolani belongs in Division II. Their numbers are low. They hardly beat the D-I teams. Their players are traditionally very small, particularly their linemen and ’backers. They have excellent coaches who know how to get them to gel as a team and win on the D-II level.”
He’s not the only coach in the state who feels that way. And, to be fair, there are plenty of others who feel the opposite — that it’s time for the Raiders to move up.
It’s likely Saint Louis’ Cal Lee, Punahou’s Kale Ane and Kamehameha’s Doug Cosbie are thrilled to have another team in their division that has consisted of just three teams for a long time. But that doesn’t mean they truly feel that’s where ‘Iolani belongs.
Punahou athletic director Tom Holden sees both sides of the coin and said the Raiders are “somewhere in the middle.”
Which brings up a subject to be touched on for now and maybe come back another day: ‘Iolani would be a perfect fit for Division I if the superpowers at schools like Punahou, Saint Louis, Kamehameha, Mililani, Kahuku and Farrington (and possibly more) were able to communicate thoroughly enough with each other and their own leagues to form a task force to create a football super conference that could go under the “Platinum” moniker. D-I would be comprised of the middle schools such as ‘Iolani and, for the sake of an example, Kaiser or Castle or Waipahu. Others, such as Waialua and St. Francis, could be D-II.
As was mentioned earlier, that is the subject for another day because you’re really in a dream world if you think the ILH and OIA brass could agree to compete against each other for a regular-season title.
And so now that it’s official that the Raiders are going to be in D-I for the 2015 season, people who think they belong there have gotten their wish.
Well, anything could happen this fall. Most likely, ‘Iolani will compete as hard as it can for a title. The players, according to Look, are up for the challenge that has been presented to them.
Most likely, it will be a steep uphill climb. For those of you who are saying ‘Iolani should have smartened up a long time ago and play up where it belongs, you certainly won’t be shedding tears for them. But it is still worth pointing out that since 2010, the Raiders are 3-17 against D-I teams.
Take a gander at that — 3-17!! Those numbers should be enough for any unbiased person to at least see that there is a basis for an argument for ‘Iolani to stay in D-II.
You won’t be hearing the leaders at ILH D-II schools Damien, Pac-Five and St. Francis arguing that ‘Iolani belongs in the lower classification, though. They’ve been routed by the Raiders for a long time, and that brings us back to Holden’s point that ‘Iolani is somewhere in the middle.
But if you look at ‘Iolani’s performance against D-II teams statewide, you’ll see that they weren’t habitually annihilating foes on the way to those titles. Five of their D-II state final victories were by two touchdowns or less.
One thing is for sure: ‘Iolani playing in D-I this season will be a really good barometer of where the Raiders really stand. Maybe they’ll win every game, and then the people who insist they should have moved up a long time will be proven correct. We shall see.
And, no matter what, it’s likely the Raiders will be back in D-II in 2016. The new ILH rule stipulates that any D-II team that wins two straight ILH or state titles must move up to D-I for one season.
So, yeah, the Raiders will give it their best shot and compete against the big boys.
Just don’t forget that it could get ugly and unsafe.