Salesianum football left with 3 games as DIAA board declines to act

Brad Myers
Delaware News Journal

After discussing other topics for 5½ hours, the elephant in the room was finally allowed to speak.

Then, after 65 more minutes of discussion, the elephant lost.

Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association board chairperson Bradley Layfield made a motion during Thursday’s meeting to direct the DIAA Football Committee to eliminate automatic playoff bids for two conference winners for this year.

William Penn's Anthony Selby turns the corner during a 2019 game against Salesianum. Flight A member William Penn had the Sals on its 2020 football schedule earlier, but changed when the Blue Hen Conference voted to play conference teams only. Salesianum now has only three games on its 2020 schedule.

Layfield’s hope was that, without the importance of an automatic bid at stake, the Blue Hen Conference would loosen its scheduling rules and allow some flexibility for Flight A teams to play Salesianum.

But the motion failed, by an 8-5 vote.

So now it’s back to the drawing board for Salesianum, the only private-school Division I football team in the state – and the only D-I team not in a conference. In a regular season shortened to just seven games due to the coronavirus, the Sals have been able to schedule only three games – all against Henlopen North opponents – so far.

The Football Committee voted Wednesday night to require teams to play at least five games to reach the postseason. So if nothing changes, Salesianum will be ineligible for the playoffs before the delayed season even starts on Oct. 23.

Appoquinimink's Warren Grooms (23) makes a move during a 2019 game against Salesianum. Flight A member Appo had the Sals on its 2020 football schedule earlier, but changed when the Blue Hen Conference voted to play conference teams only. Salesianum now has only three games on its 2020 schedule.

“At this time, the best I can tell Salesianum is I wish you a lot of luck in trying to reach out to folks in Pennsylvania,” Layfield told Salesianum athletic director Scott Mosier immediately after the vote.

“I thank you for the time,” Mosier responded. “I was hoping we could keep this in-state with DIAA, but we will look out of state.”

Sallies has played many out-of-state football opponents before. Over the previous 10 seasons, the Sals played a combined 28 games against teams from Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Ohio.

But this year is different. Many of those states – like Delaware – are just starting their football seasons and teams may not have many open dates.

St. Georges quarterback Nyaire Wilson scrambles during a 2019 game against Salesianum. Flight A member St. Georges had the Sals on its 2020 football schedule earlier, but changed when the Blue Hen Conference voted to play conference teams only. Salesianum now has only three games on its 2020 schedule.

Plus, Delaware and Michigan are the only two states nationwide that are requiring high school football players to wear masks while playing. So even though Salesianum is ready to cut the ribbon on the brand-new Abessinio Stadium across the street from its Wilmington campus, it is unlikely that any out-of-state opponent would be willing to come to Delaware and wear masks when they could breathe easier at home.

Traveling out of state likely isn’t an option either, as the Delaware Division of Public Health likely would not allow a Delaware football team to play against an opponent that wasn’t wearing masks. Mosier also pointed out that Delaware is currently on New Jersey’s quarantine list, which would require the Sals to isolate in that state for 14 days before playing a game.

So it’s Delaware or bust, and so far Mosier’s scheduling efforts have not been very successful.

“We have reached out to every school that has an open date,” Mosier said during the meeting. “None of them are willing to play us.”

Hodgson quarterback C.J. Henry scrambles during a 2019 game against Salesianum. Flight A member Hodgson had the Sals on its 2020 football schedule earlier, but changed when the Blue Hen Conference voted to play conference teams only. Salesianum now has only three games on its 2020 schedule.

When the DIAA board voted on Sept. 10 to reinstate fall sports, the race began for the state’s 44 football teams to fill their shortened, seven-game schedules.

The Henlopen Conference, which covers Kent and Sussex counties, has eight football teams in its Northern (large schools) Division and six teams in its Southern (small schools) Division. That left Henlopen South teams to play five games against each other and two games outside of the conference.

The Henlopen North allowed Milford and Polytech – the two smallest schools in that division – to also play teams outside of the conference. That gave the other six North teams one game of flexibility, and three of them – Dover, Smyrna and Sussex Central – agreed to play Salesianum.

The Blue Hen Conference, which consists of New Castle County public schools, places its eight largest schools in Flight A and the eight smallest in Flight B.

Salesianum lineman Brett Kwoka chases Middletown QB Braden Davis during a 2019 game. Flight A member Middletown had the Sals on its 2020 football schedule earlier, but changed when the Blue Hen Conference voted to play conference teams only. Salesianum now has only three games on its 2020 schedule.

Blue Hen voted to play conference games only in football, and with each team locked in to seven conference opponents, there was no scheduling flexibility.

But before the COVID-19 pandemic drastically altered everyone’s lives in March, most Delaware high schools had already filled what they thought would be 10-game football schedules this fall. Mosier said five Flight A schools – Middletown, Appoquinimink, Hodgson, St. Georges and William Penn – had agreed to play Salesianum.

That changed when the season was shortened to seven games. So now it appears that Sallies’ only hope is to appeal to the Blue Hen to change its scheduling rules and give a few willing teams the flexibility to play the Sals.

“We’re going to reach out to Blue Hen Conference Flight A, knowing that Henlopen North doesn’t play everybody in their conference and has an automatic bid,” Mosier said. “I think it’s fair to ask Flight A why they don’t have the same policy, and if they would allow to still have an automatic bid without having to play every team in their conference.

“If Blue Hen Flight A teams like Middletown and Appo and Hodgson and William Penn want to play Sallies, I’m hopeful they’ll be able to find a way to do it with support from [the conference].”

DIAA board members Dr. Bradley Bley, Mike Breeding, Bob Cilento, Evelyn Edney, Kevin Fitzgerald, Doug Thompson, Stan Waterman and Vetra Evans-Gunter voted against Layfield’s motion to eliminate the automatic bids. Kathleen Andrus, Mike Hart, Jeremy Jeanne, Ted Laws and Layfield voted for it.

With the regular season in other fall sports starting Oct. 19 and football starting Oct. 23, the DIAA board will hold a special meeting on Oct. 15. It is possible that the subject could be revisited at that time.

Contact Brad Myers at bmyers@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ