OPINION: BIIF to Blame for Low Regional Game Attendance
The dominance and consistency of Konawaena and Lahainaluna are one of a few reasons why the Hawaii Athletic Directors Association (HIADA) adopted the regional state tournament format that debuted this past weekend during the Hawaiian Airlines/Hawai`i High School Athletic Association (HHSAA) Division I Girls Basketball Championships.
Unfortunately, the low turnout at Kealakehe High School Saturday for Konawaena’s regional final against Mililani could be a factor in the pilot program’s demise, at least on the Big Island.
The HHSAA proposed the regional format last summer, and it was approved as a pilot project with Division I girls basketball and boys volleyball both by HIADA and the HHSAA executive committee, comprised of leaders from each prep league in the state.
The dates for these games were set shortly thereafter. Girls basketball regional games were set for Feb. 7-8. Boys volleyball regional games will be played on May 2-3.
League champions were given the opportunity to host these regional sites. Lahainaluna won the Maui Interscholastic League and was rewarded with a regional championship game at the Lahaina Civic Center. Meanwhile, Kealakehe High School was chosen as the host site for Konawaena’s regional. Both Oahu league champions hosted games at Moanalua High School, McKinley High School, and the Neal Blaisdell Center.
Other reasons that the regional format was adopted was to give early-round state tournament games an opportunity to draw bigger crowds away from Oahu, where small crowds are normal until the state semifinals and championship games. It was also designed to spread a little more of the travel burden to teams on Oahu that normally wouldn’t leave their island to play in the tournament.
The Lahainaluna game against Maryknoll was a home run. The HHSAA announced that 1,400 people attended that game, which tipped-off at 6 p.m. The Lunas narrowly defeated Maryknoll 61-57 to advance to next week’s final four.
The game at Kealakehe High School was a massive flop, however. Just 230 people attended the 6 p.m. game, which saw Konawaena fall to Mililani for the second time this season.
I’ve attended each of Konawaena’s last five state championship game appearances in Oahu, and the common theme every year is the massive following of fans who make the trip over, wearing green and black and often times drowning out fans of the opposing team.
So how did this happen? For starters, five Big Island Interscholastic Federation boys basketball games were scheduled at the same time around the island, including a pivotal game at Konawaena’s Ellison Onizuka Gymnasium between the Wildcats and Hawai`i Preparatory Academy. The boys game, which started an hour and a half after the girls contest, drew a bigger crowd with senior night festivities and an undefeated league opponent that was ranked ninth in the state. It was billed as one of the biggest games of the season.
This may be a critical failure on the part of the BIIF. The scheduling process starts with the sport’s coordinator, which is Ka`u High School athletic director Kalei Namohala. Once she creates the schedules, she submits them to the athletic directors for approval. The schedule passed with few changes, and the boys basketball games on Saturday night remained unchanged.
Many athletic directors in the league say that more state tournament games should be held away from Oahu. Their argument is that the Big Island, and other neighbor islands, can draw bigger crowds and have comparable facilities in several sports, like the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium and Wong Stadium. At the most recent HIADA meetings, the BIIF and Kauai Interscholastic Federation joined the hosting rotation for the Division II state baseball tournament.
Saturday’s poor attendance showed that the BIIF is not ready to host a major state basketball tournament. There were open dates on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday for the boys basketball games to be scheduled. A full slate of games was played on Wednesday and one game was played on Friday. It is very likely that without anything challenging the state tournament regional, the crowd would have been larger. Maybe, a bigger and louder crowd pushes Konawaena to a victory instead of the tough loss it suffered.
Many fans asked via social media why one of the games couldn’t be moved to eliminate any conflict. For starters, its near impossible to move the start time of the girls regional because of the flight arrangements for the visiting team. Also, moving the boys game earlier in the day could have resulted in less revenue for Konawaena, the host of the boys game. The HHSAA takes in the gate revenue for the state tournament game.
Others asked why the Konawaena/Mililani game wasn’t played at Konawaena High School. The reason is that the HHSAA does not permit state tournament games to be played at home court venues. It’s a statewide policy.
If Hilo had won the league championship and hosted the regional game, it would’ve been held at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. Hilo’s girls basketball teams play at Kawananakoa Gym in Keaukaha. Another conflict would have arisen if this scenario had played out, as a boys game between Hilo and Kealakehe would’ve been scheduled for the same venue that night.
More oversight needs to be given to scheduling in all sports and how it collides with state tournaments. For example, in November, the league’s Division II football championship game was played at the same time as the New City Nissan/HHSAA Division I girls basketball championship game, held at Kamehameha-Hawai`i.
Until this happens, the HHSAA should stay away from scheduling future major tournaments on the Big Island.