The big picture for an 11-team league of 11-man high school football on the Big Island is no longer an issue, but relevant decisions concerning what form the competition will take remain undetermined.
One way or the other, it’s going to happen in the fall with the inclusion of Kohala, Ka’u and Pahoa, the three previous 8-man football schools who have all agreed to make the step up, but then what? Will it be it a good idea for perennial champion Hilo to play, say, Kohala in an opening game?
Gulp. If that prospect seems unnecessary and even unwise, it is also serviceable as a means to understand what they’re really discussing. Should the top 11-man teams on the Big Island, including the Hilo program that has advanced to the state championship in consecutive seasons, really play teams that have been getting by with 8-man football?
The unblinking answer would seem to be yes, if everyone is going to play 11-man football. Keep in mind, this isn’t a question for Hilo, Konawaena, Kamehameha or any of the other traditional 11-man football schools. Those programs will play anybody in the BIIF, it’s their island, their home.
This is about the willingness of the three “expansion” teams to move up and take on a larger battle.
The coaches are ready. In the process of interviewing for this column, nobody at Ka’u, Pahoa or Kohala expressed any interest in being restricted in terms of opposition.
That being the case, let them jump into the deep end of the pool. Does everyone agree?
That’s what they’ll discuss again Monday when BIIF athletics directors hold their monthly meeting, chaired by Kalei Namohala, the AD at Ka’u and the director of BIIF football.
Namohala has her preferences, like all of us, but she isn’t going to be an autocrat. At the end of the day, she will no doubt approve whatever the consensus favors, but it’s clear that the new-look BIIF football league will have direct implications on what we’ll call the “expansion” teams here.
That is a sports term that usually applies to professional leagues that form new teams out of peripheral players from existing teams and fresh draft choices. The BIIF will be doing something somewhat similar in adding three schools who haven’t played 11-man in years and it will be up to those three to recruit more players to fill rosters with enough players to provide reserves and specialists to the 2019 season.
“I was a proponent of 8-man, I thought the smaller schools had a chance to be more competitive, but my coaches wanted to go back to 11-man, and others did, too, so here we are,” Namohala said last week.
Namohala wasn’t going to predict what might take place at the Monday AD meeting, and she has no intention to attempt to block what the coaches at the three schools want to do, but she wonders about levels of competition.
“I don’t like tier competition,” she said, “(Ka’u) had that in volleyball and we never got better, we just stayed at the level we were in, so I would prefer division or play all, but we’ll get it worked out.”
The “play all” concept is just what it says — 11 teams and everyone plays everyone. In division play, two divisions play only schools within those divisions, which makes it an 11-team league in name only. Tier play follows a “red, white and blue” concept in which the red, or top teams, play red and white teams, teams in the middle (white) play teams from both other divisions and blue teams play all the blue teams and some white teams.
Coaches want the challenge.
“I think it’s great,” Kohala’s Chad Atkins said last week, moments after visiting a group of eighth-graders who were eager receptors of the news. “I think, from what I heard from that visit, that I just recruited about 15-20 kids who are going to turn out for football.
“You always hear the talk about 11-man, but I didn’t expect that kind of reaction,” he said, “it’s great to see and hear their interest.”
Atkins is anticipating bigger and better things because his squad will return “17 or 18 kids from last year, kids who actually played.”
With 15 or 20 newbies, he’s anticipating a turnout of 35 to 40 in the fall.
“We can make that work,” Atkins said.
None of the three “expansion” team coaches are concerned about the new alignment, but it sounds as though they prefer playing everyone.
“More or less competitive? It’s not about that,” said Pahoa coach Chris Midel, “our goal has always been to move up, from the time I first got here I’ve talked to (AD Hoku Holiniak), about it.
“Honestly, we haven’t had a lot of parents showing up, I get the idea they think 8-man isn’t as competitive, but I think that can change when we play 11-man.”
For Midel, 11-man football is a growth opportunity.
“You can do more things,” he said, “you can slow the game down a little and maybe not have it be just a run, run, run game. In 8-man, you always felt like you were kind of boxed in, only two teams to play, not much chance to get better.”
He also thinks Pahoa might attract as many as 35-40 aspirants for the roster this fall, a ballpark figure they think they can attract at Ka’u, as well.
There are lots of coaching strategies that can help balance the field. Can you play fast and throw it 50 times a game? Can you play slow, with an extra blocker in a Wing-T type offense that might allow a team to bring for four yards a play, run the clock down and keep the score close? Some high school teams are using all four downs, very rarely punting and finding it advantageous.
When they go to 11-man football across the Big Island, it will be up to those three “expansion” coaches to make the big boys adjust. Can they do it?
A consideration might be to blend the new teams in with a two-year window in which they would not play either of the teams that played for the previous year’s BIIF championship, then in the third year, the gates open.
Live and learn is how it works, and the learning process starts in the fall.
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