In just two years, St. Frances’ football program rose from winless in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference to a national powerhouse, ranked No. 4 in USA Today’s Super 25 this past fall.
Last season, the Panthers outscored their MIAA opposition 342-50 en route to their second straight conference championship and rumblings from some other teams about not playing St. Frances anymore began to emerge. MIAA opponents said the Panthers had become too physically dominant to compete with and last week teams began dropping St. Frances from their schedule. St. Frances will instead play an independent national schedule in 2018.
» Schools that won’t play St. Frances: Mount Saint Joseph, Calvert Hall, McDonogh, Archbishop Spalding, Gilman, Loyola Blakefield (left MIAA in football entirely)
» Reasons they’re citing: Loyola left the conference earlier this year, citing its lack of competitiveness in the MIAA for its departure. Over the past week, Mount Saint Joseph, Calvert Hall and McDonogh all said they would no longer play St. Frances for safety reasons stemming from the Panthers’ size, skill and speed advantage. Mount Saint Joseph officials also expressed that they felt St. Frances’ recruitment of high-level talent went against the spirit of the MIAA. Archbishop Spalding cited “logistical reasons only” to allow St. Frances to play a national schedule. Gilman was the last MIAA team to announce, citing the fact that St. Frances decided to play a national schedule.
» Disputes of those reasons: Dr. Curtis Turner, principal of St. Frances — a predominantly African-American Catholic school in East Baltimore — said he believes the decisions to drop the Panthers are in part racially motivated. Calvert Hall disputed that its decision had anything to do with race. St. Frances has since put out a joint statement with Calvert Hall, saying the two schools have been in communication about not playing football, and that St. Frances now understands Calvert Hall’s decision was based “solely on concerns for the safety of its students.”
» What's next: On Wednesday, St. Frances announced it will play a national schedule instead of a local one in 2018, something co-coach Biff Poggi said he initially intended to do starting in 2019. He said beginning sooner was necessitated by the events of the past week.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
* In January, Loyola Blakefield withdrew its football team from the MIAA temporarily after going winless in the A Conference for two years. School officials said at the time that the Dons had not kept up with the rise in the talent level in the conference overall.
* Mount Saint Joseph officials were the first to announce it would not play St. Frances this fall. The announcement came in a letter from athletic director Kraig Loovis and football coach Rich Holzer posted on a msjfootball.teamapp.com on May 29, citing safety reasons and St. Frances’ “large number of transfers.” The next day, Calvert Hall officials announced their team would not play St. Frances, citing safety concerns and the Panthers’ “size and athletic disparity.”
* St. Frances principal Dr. Curtis Turner told The Baltimore Sun on Thursday that school officials had considered playing an independent schedule but did not believe the MIAA would allow it. Teams dropping off the schedule in late May, he said, make it hard for the coaches to find games to replace the ones they’ve lost.
* Dr. Turner told The Sun’s Mike Preston that he believes the decisions to stop playing St. Frances are, in part, racially motivated. “Absolutely, and I’m not going to shy away from it,” he said.
* On Friday evening, Calvert Hall’s president, Brother John Kane, denied Turner’s allegations of racism and said the decision was made only for the safety of the players.
* On Monday morning on 105.7 The Fan, St. Frances athletic director Nick Myles and football co-coach Henry Russell disputed the other schools’ assertions that the Panthers are too dominant on the field, citing that no one dropped Gilman when the Greyhounds were dominating the conference with 13 championships in 19 years. On Monday evening, McDonogh officials announced the Eagles would not play St. Frances this fall.
* On Wednesday, St. Frances revealed it will begin playing a national schedule in 2018, facing teams from Florida, New York, Ohio, Virginia and Connecticut as well as four teams from Canada. Most of the games will be home games for the Panthers. Poggi said in a radio interview that he had intended to begin a national schedule in 2019. Archbishop Spalding also announced Wednesday it wouldn’t be playing St. Frances, but for “logistical reasons only” to allow for the Panthers’ national schedule.
* Also Wednesday, St. Frances and Calvert Hall put out their joint statement about the reasons behind Calvert Hall deciding not to play St. Frances. Poggi also defended his program in an interview with The Sun.
* On Thursday, Gilman became the last MIAA school to officially bow out of playing St. Frances, with the only reason cited being the Panthers taking on a national schedule.