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High school football: More the merrier in Open Division

Updated: 
June 15, 2017 - 12:05am

The Oahu Interscholastic Association claims that participation is among its biggest priorities.

That’s one reason why it can be so hard to understand why the OIA has threatened to make a drastic move that would take away opportunities for hundreds of its student- athletes.

If the league that represents the most-populated island’s 22 football- playing public high schools follows through on boycotting the Open Division of the state tournament, it would — as things stand now — have four fewer teams competing at states.

There’s also the potential consequence of turning all three tiers — Open, Division I and Division II — into a chaotic mockery of an event for everyone.

Last Friday, the athletic directors from the state’s four other leagues unanimously voted for, and all of the OIA’s ADs voted against, extending last year’s pilot of the three-tier state tournament. The final count was 63-27, setting the stage for the OIA’s announced plan to boycott what is supposed to be the top level of state tournament competition.

Since then I’ve been wondering how it is in the OIA’s interest not to have more of its teams and kids participating in state tournaments, competing for championships.

The easy answer is “recruiting.” But that’s too easy.

The most frustrating aspect of all of this is that less than two years ago the private-school Interscholastic League of Honolulu and the OIA appeared to be on the verge of collaborating on a football alliance that really made sense for everyone, including helping the OIA schools financially.

But that was too good to be true, and enough of the old distrust from generations ago lingers on.

Now they’re farther apart than ever.

Largely due to the lack of a “super conference” that would be one result of a regular-season alliance with the OIA, reigning state champion Saint Louis of the ILH has publicly voiced a potential drastic move, too. It would entail leaving its own league and playing teams in California if it can’t get a schedule where the ILH’s big three don’t play each other several times. Depending on whom you talk to, Kamehameha and Punahou are at least considering similar options.

The more I read and the more stakeholders I talk with, it seems the biggest sticking point for the OIA is that many of its decision-makers are dead-set against the ILH having two teams in the state tournament’s Open Division.

OIA president Wade Araki voiced this as a concern in a letter last year to Hawaii High School Athletics Association executive director Chris Chun.

Araki asked why two of the six Open Division berths were given to ILH teams and four to the OIA when the OIA’s participating schools outnumber the ILH’s 22-7. (The three neighbor island leagues elected not to participate in the Open Division last year.)

The real answer is that at least two from the ILH are among the six best football teams in the state every year. If the idea is to determine a champion, it makes more sense to have two of six teams from the ILH than five from the OIA.

Here’s a solution: Expand the Open Division to eight teams, six from the OIA and two from the ILH. That would put the ratio almost exactly in line and increase participation numbers for both leagues.

Although it didn’t happen last year thanks to Kapolei’s quarterfinal victory over Punahou, many OIA supporters dislike the possibility of an all-ILH final. The easy fix is to put both ILH teams on the same side of the bracket, which would guarantee both don’t get to the championship game.

The HHSAA’s football committee — which is made up of Chun, the executive directors and football coordinators of the five leagues — is set to meet in a few weeks, Chun said.

“I don’t have an answer one way or another, and we’re going to prepare as if what (the OIA is) saying (it will do) is true,” Chun said. “Everyone has to do what’s best for their leagues, but in the end I hope we will all do what’s best for the state.”

Expanding the Open Division to eight teams would be a good start … especially if the OIA cares more about its own number of participants than it does how many ILH teams are in.

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