Calvert Hall, Spalding and Mount St. Joe will participate; A Conference football still has a lot to resolve before next fall

by Gary Adornato

It is not the unofficial MIAA A Conference football playoffs, but close.

The football teams from Calvert Hall, Archbishop Spalding and Mount St. Joseph, along with one time MIAA A Conference rival Loyola Blakefield and four Washington, D.C. area teams will all participate in the Maryland Christian Schools Invitational to be played out over the next two weekends.

Organized by Calvert Hall head coach Donald Davis, the event is designed to give the teams involved something to play for in a post-season environment, since the MIAA playoffs were canceled this year in the wake of the controversy surrounding the dispute between many A Conference schools and their league rival St. Frances Academy, which came to a head last summer.

As has been well documented, several A Conference schools declared that they would not play St. Frances in 2018 over safety concerns and St. Frances’ accelerated recruiting practices. The result was an ugly public battle, played out on social and traditional media, which included charges of racism and illegal recruiting being tossed back and forth between the parties.

Eventually, the MIAA ruled that their was no evidence that St. Frances did anything which violated current league rules and allowed the Panthers to pursue a national schedule while declaring them the 2018 league champs by default. There have been, however, some proposed rule changes to limit senior transfers and other measures have been considered to curb the perceived competitive advantage the Panthers have over their rivals. Further, no league standings were kept between the remaining teams in 2018.

“What happened was unfortunate and the biggest victims were the kids,” said Davis. “It was not a good thing for our kids and not a good thing for the St. Frances kids. We wanted to give our kids, especially our seniors, something to play for at the end of the year.”

Originally, there was an attempt to create a true “unofficial” playoff involving the five MIAA A Conference teams. Gilman and McDonogh, however, expressed no interest in participating forcing Davis to become more creative and he began discussing options with several Christian schools in the D.C. area. What he came up with was part tournament, part bowl games. Spalding and Calvert Hall, which were agreed to be the two higher seeds coming out of the MIAA, will play in the tournament portion, which St. Joe will play in what essentially are two “bowl” games.

The D.C. area schools participating are Avalon, Capital Christian, National Christian and Riverdale Baptist. In the playoff bracket, this weekend, Calvert Hall will play Avalon at Good Counsel High School on Thursday night and Spalding will play at Riverdale Baptist. The winners of those two games will play in the bracket championship game next week at Spalding. The losers will also play next week at Spalding.

St. Joe will meet National Christian this weekend at Oxon Hill and Capital Christian next weekend at Spalding. Loyola will play just one game, this weekend at Capital Christian.

Loyola, which of course will play Calvert Hall on Thanksgiving Day at Towson University, was a key to making the playoff bracket work even though it is not participating in that part of the event. The Dons were originally scheduled to play Riverdale Baptist this weekend, but Loyola released the Crusaders from that commitment so Riverdale Baptist could participate. The Dons then accepted the opportunity to play Capital Christian.

As far as the 2019 MIAA A Conference football season, it still remains a mystery.

St. Frances has stated publicly that it plans to once again pursue a national schedule, but has not yet filed the required paper work to officially do so. It is movement year in the MIAA, which means teams can apply to move their programs from one level of play to another. It has been widely speculated that Loyola, after playing 2018 as an independent, will apply for admittance into the MIAA B Conference. In addition, there are rumors that Gilman, which struggled to a 1-9 record this fall under first year head coach Nick Bach, with just 34 players in its football program, may also apply for the B Conference.

A Gilman move from the A Conference would be stunning. The Greyhounds won 13 league titles between 1998 and 2015 under current St. Frances associate head coach Biff Poggi. After a difficult 2016, the Greyhounds battled their way to the 2017 league title game, losing to the Poggi led St. Frances squad.

Any decisions on movement must be approved by the MIAA Competition Committee. Before those items can be sorted out, the league needs a final resolution on St. Frances’ status within the league or these schools could find themselves in the same situation heading into next season.