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 in late May, teams began dropping St. Frances from their schedules. 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. 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 had already released a schedule that didn’t include the Greyhounds.
» 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 put out a joint statement with Calvert Hall, saying the two schools had 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: The MIAA will continue to consider issues such as a limit on the number of transfers and what will happen next season if the situation comes up again. The five teams that opted not to play St. Frances mentioned only the 2018 season.
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 on May 30 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, made 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 June 1, 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.
* June 4 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.That evening, McDonogh officials announced the Eagles would not play St. Frances this fall.
* On June 6, St. Frances revealed it will begin playing a national schedule in 2018. Co-coach Biff Poggi said in a radio interview that he had intended to begin a national schedule in 2019. Archbishop Spalding then announced that it had reached a mutual agreement with St. Frances not to play so that the Panthers could play an independent schedule.
* Also June 6, 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 June 7, Gilman became the last MIAA school to officially bow out of playing St. Frances, because the Greyhounds were not on the schedule St. Frances had released.
* On June 27, the MIAA leadership group — the board of governors, officers from the executive committee and executive director Lee Dove —met but did not announced any decisions.
* On Aug. 6, MIAA A Conference football practice began with still no decision. Dove said “some conclusions” had been reached at the June 27 meeting, but that some league officials had second thoughts. Those rulings — including one that, sources said, would have forced all five of the A Conference teams to forfeit their games against St. Frances — were reconsidered.
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* On Aug. 10, in a statement released to A Conference football coaches and heads of schools, the MIAA said St. Frances would be awarded the 2018 football championship, there would be no playoffs and no team would have to forfeit.