St. Frances football has been declared the 2018 Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champion, there will be no playoffs this fall and no team has to forfeit, league officials announced Saturday morning, ending speculation about the consequences of all the Panthers’ A Conference opponents deciding not to play them in the coming season.
“This has been a difficult and delicate situation for the MIAA and its member schools to endure,” MIAA executive director Lee Dove said in a statement sent Friday to the coaches and heads of schools with A Conference football programs.
“With no previous history of such actions, the leadership has at all times tried to make decisions that are justified, appropriate under the circumstances and transparent, and will continue to do so. While this scenario has been specific to ‘A’ Conference football schools, maintaining the integrity and reputation of the MIAA and all of its twenty-nine member schools remains a top priority for this association.”
St. Frances co-coach Henry Russell said earlier this week that the Panthers had moved on from the situation and already considered themselves league champions for the third straight time.
“It’s kind of what we expected,” Russell said Saturday. “We have to wish all the kids in the league good luck and it is kind of a shame. You never want to win a championship the way we won it, but at least our kids will be able to say they were champions, especially our seniors.”
The situation erupted in late May when Mount Saint Joseph officials announced that they would not play St. Frances this fall. Calvert Hall and McDonogh quickly followed. All cited safety factors, and Mount Saint Joseph officials also pointed to St. Frances’ “large number of transfers.”
The Panthers, who finished last season 13-0 and No. 4 in USA Today’s Super 25, had apparently become too big and too strong for their conference foes.
Archbishop Spalding and St. Frances then came to a mutual decision not to play so the Panthers coaches could pursue a national independent schedule. When St. Frances released that schedule, Gilman was not on it. Gilman officials then said the two would not play this fall.
Gilman co-athletic director Lori Bristow said she accepted the MIAA decision.
“It’s what we kind of expected,” she said. “The statement is not outlandish. I think it’s crafted well and I have no problem with St. Frances being named the champion. The only thing that still quite frankly bothers me is that we never dropped them. They scheduled over us and no one’s ever said anything about that, but that’s OK. I don’t mind being put with Spalding, because it really was crafted to try not to upset anyone.”
Calvert Hall released a statement: “We accept the MIAA’s decision and we look forward to playing our upcoming schedule.”
Dove told The Baltimore Sun on Saturday that this decision is only in place for the 2018 season. Should opposing schools continue to keep St. Frances off their schedules, the league will decide what that means for 2019 and beyond.
St. Frances athletic director Nick Myles has said the Panthers are not leaving the A Conference.
The MIAA statement also said that because St. Frances has been able to fill out an independent schedule, the other teams will not have to forfeit their games against the Panthers. Each will be allowed to substitute another opponent and play a full schedule.
With no playoffs or championship game this season, no “official standings will be kept.”
Addressing the issue of St. Frances accepting many transfers over the past few years, the statement went on to say that “a discussion and review of all MIAA rules specific to recruitment, transfers and eligibility will continue to take place.”
Dove has said that St. Frances coaches have never violated league rules when accepting transfer students. All have been determined by the league to be eligible to play in accordance with MIAA rules.
The Panthers junior varsity team will continue to play in the conference.
At a June 27 meeting, the MIAA leadership group — the board of governors, officers from the executive committee and Dove — reached “some conclusions” about the situation. Those conclusions included all five teams taking forfeits for not playing St. Frances, several sources told The Sun.
“Of course, after you have time to process and think, there were a couple of concerns about, ‘Is this what we truly want to say?’ This is such a difficult situation — we’ve never dealt with anything like this — that we just want to make sure that whatever we put out there is going to be specific, is going to have to some teeth to it, is what we’re going to stand behind whatever praise or criticism may come,” Dove said earlier this month.
On June 6, the MIAA issued a statement saying it would review the league policy on forfeits, because, according to MIAA rules, Mount Saint Joseph, Calvert Hall and McDonogh had forfeited when they opted not to play St. Frances. Those three were notified not to schedule another team in place of St. Frances until the policy was clarified.
St. Frances, which has been a powerhouse only since the Gilman coaching staff moved to the East Baltimore Catholic school two years ago, went undefeated through the MIAA A Conference the past two seasons. The Panthers were No. 1 in The Sun and the state media polls, and they capped the season with a 41-3 win over Bingham (Utah), 41-3, in the Geico State Champions Bowl Series.
The High School Football America Preseason 100 has St. Frances at No. 15. No other Baltimore-area school was included.
After the schools announced that they would not play the Panthers, Myles and Russell countered that those teams didn’t drop Gilman when the Greyhounds were dominating the conference with 13 championships in 19 years. St. Frances president Curtis Turner told The Sun that he believed the decisions were racially motivated against the small predominantly African-American school.
On June 6, St. Frances revealed a national schedule for this fall that did not include any teams from Maryland.
Loyola Blakefield already had withdrawn from A Conference football in January to play an independent schedule because of its recent competitive disparity with all of the teams in the conference.