The BIIF just got bigger, but is that a good thing?
League officials confirmed on Wednesday the decision by the island’s three 8-man programs — Kohala, Ka‘u and Pahoa — to make the move to 11-man football. That expands the field of teams on the Big Island to 11, with decisions on divisions and more to come.
Pahoa was the first to declare the move, which would have left Ka‘u and Kohala in no-man’s land. Without a third team, there would be no official 8-man league, leaving the Trojans and Cowboys to either move up or beat up on each other every weekend with no BIIF title to be won.
The hope is that all three programs are ready to follow though on the obligation of fielding squads for the full season. That’s no small task.
History would indicate that it’s a gamble, to say the least, with ghosts of forfeits past still lingering on the minds of coaches and administrators around the league.
Kohala started with just 23 players last fall, while Pahoa and Ka‘u each reported 30-plus on the roster. But with injuries, academic probation and flat-out football fatigue factoring in, there’s little wiggle room when you get down the stretch. Luckily for some of the larger schools, capable JV players can sometimes serve as reinforcements to fill the holes.
It’s hard not to consider Ka‘u and Kohala’s last foray into the 11-man game in 2012. The Trojans lost by an average of 61 points, including a 91-8 loss to Konawaena. Ka‘u forfeited it’s final game of the season that year, but finished with two wins, both forfeit victories over Kohala, which was dealing with player population problems of its own at the time. The Cowboys managed to play only three games in all.
That season would be the blueprint for a worse case situation.
However, despite its demise, the 8-man game could prove to be the catalyst, helping gradually rebuild the numbers and interest that were scarce in the areas previously, and giving players a more complete and tested skill-set to use on the field.
It goes hand-in-hand with maintaining a healthy football culture, which Ka‘u athletic director and BIIF football coordinator Kalei Namohala sees in her community. The Trojans have won the last three BIIF 8-man titles and have an eager crop of players coming in.
“Ka‘u needs football,” Namohala said. “Everybody loves it, and it’s great to help the kids focused, both in athletics and academics.”
Just look at Hawaii Prep, which forfeited its final game of the 2017 season due to lack of players, played a preseason game last season with just 21, but ended the season with more than double that figure thanks to the persistence of first year head coach Albert Cummings, who motivated his players with the message that they were building something.
That certainly seems to be the message in Pahoa, which hasn’t fielded an 11-man team since 2001 but are raring to get a chance to play with a full 11.
Moving things around
While numbers are a question, if everything pans out, the move could help solve a parity issue in the BIIF.
It would be fair to say the league could use some kind of competitive shakeup, most notably in Division II.
Last year, Honokaa and Hawaii Prep combined for one league win, and that was the Dragons’ narrow victory over Ka Makani. Those bottom two teams in the four-team D-II combined to score just 102 points in seven games — not even half of what Konawaena (232) and Kamehameha (239) put up by themselves in the regular season.
So here’s an idea: bump up Konawaena and Kamehameha — which have combined for all but one D-II league title since 2005 — to Division I, leaving six teams (Kealakehe, Waiakea, Keaau, Hilo, Kamehameha, Konawaena) in Division I and five (Ka‘u, Kohala, Pahoa, Honokaa, HPA) in Division II.
There’s no doubt the Warriors and Wildcats could find success in D-I, both on island and in the state tournament. After all, when Hilo won the Division I state title in 2017, their lone loss came to Konawaena, which fell in the D-II title game to Lahainaluna.
But no matter what kind of division breakdown the league decides on when athletic directors reconvene in February, when it comes to scheduling, there’s no easy solution.
How many games? Who plays who? East vs. west?
Currently the BIIF plays a seven-game regular season. Every team plays each other once, regardless of division, with the top two teams in Division I and Division II facing off in their respective title games.
If that continued with 11 teams, it would result in a 10-game regular season, which would both limit what teams could do with valuable preseason opportunities against foes from off-island and add more wear and tear for the postseason.
That’s also not to mention the lack of officials on the island, which will almost surely lead to a heaping serving of Thursday football and some two-a-days on the weekends for the zebras.
The league’s decision makers will have to get a little creative with their ideas, hoping not disturb the recent trend of success at the BIIF at the state tournament, among other things.
Yes, we’re talking about football, but all-around, it’s a delicate situation with many more questions than answers right now.