Salesianum’s appeal the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association to make changes to the way the state Division I football tournament field will be selected this year was rejected during a DIAA board meeting on Oct. 8, leaving the Sals scrambling to find more opponents two weeks before the opening kickoff.
The Sals have just three games scheduled, four short of the maximum allowed this season and two below the minimum needed to qualify for the four-team tournament. Many of Sallies’ traditional opponents are members of the Blue Hen Conference Flight A, which is playing just a round-robin amongst its eight teams in 2020, with the conference champion receiving an automatic postseason bid.
Another automatic bid will go to the winner of the Henlopen Conference North. That conference adjusted its scheduling this season to help the smaller schools in the Henlopen South fill their dates, and three Henlopen North teams fit Salesianum into their open dates. Those are the only games Sallies athletic director Scott Mosier has been able to book.
Mosier told the board he had called every team in Delaware with an open date, but none would play the Sals. He said the out-of-state options are limited because Delaware is on New Jersey’s and New York’s quarantine lists, Pennsylvania is just getting started with football, and Maryland public schools just received permission to play this fall.
“The issue for Sallies is an urgent one,” Mosier told the board. “We can’t fill a full season of games. There are 16 Division I teams, and 15 of those are in two conferences.”
That leverage allows those conferences to dictate the tournament rules to the state, he said.
If the DIAA board would have removed the automatic bids, he said, several of the Flight A teams were ready to commit to playing Salesianum. The Sals had five Flight A teams on their schedule last year.
Salesianum has sought inclusion into both the Blue Hen and the Henlopen North conferences in the past without success.
“We have tried, and we were rejected,” said Mike Hart, the former longtime athletic director at Salesianum and a member of the DIAA executive board.
Mosier had three suggestions for the board. The first was to allow Salesianum to become members of either the Henlopen North for this year only. The Sals would not be eligible for the automatic bid, meaning they would have to earn entry into the postseason as one of two at-large teams. Second, automatic bids could be eliminated, which would mean teams in Flight A would not have to play everyone in their conference. Third, all 16 of the teams in Division I could be in one pool, with a schedule being created out of that.
Members of the DIAA board questioned why Salesianum hasn’t scheduled other teams with open dates, such as Independent Conference members Wilmington Friends and Tower Hill.
“I think the smaller schools and smaller teams are concerned about playing a bigger program. I think in football, it’s unique,” Mosier said. “We need to have more movement in the bigger schools.”
One board member wanted to know why Salesianum had not scheduled St. Elizabeth and Saint Mark’s. The Sals have not played the Vikings in many years, but Saint Mark’s has been on their schedule for decades.
“I can’t answer why” the Spartans are not on the schedule in 2020, Mosier said. “They chose not to play us.”
Saint Mark’s principal Thomas Fertal said schools design their schedules based on a variety of factors. “This year, a football game with Salesianum did not fit into our plan and subsequent schedule.”
DIAA executive director Donna Polk said realignment has been discussed for a while, but to get something done in time for this season is not realistic. Any changes for this year would need to come from the conferences and the DIAA football committee. The committee met Oct. 7 and decided to keep the automatic bids and the point system that determines the at-large teams.
There was talk Thursday about adding a week to the season, giving each team an eighth game. That would open up room on other teams’ schedules for the Sals. But under the emergency regulations that high school sports are required to follow this year, the season is capped at seven regular-season games, and the postseason needs to end by Dec. 19.
Saint Mark’s tried to join the Blue Hen Conference in the 1970s and was rejected, prompting two parents to file a lawsuit against the conference for violating their children’s rights to equal protection and due process. In the court decision, it was noted that the school had trouble finding opponents in several sports, but the Blue Hen voted not to amend its constitution to allow nonpublic schools.
Ultimately, the Blue Hen Conference was not forced to accept Saint Mark’s as a member, but as a result, a number of Blue Hen schools were required to schedule both Saint Mark’s and Salesianum each season.
Salesianum would be “more than happy” to join a conference, Mosier said. In the meantime, he added, he will continue to look for opponents from other states.