High School Football

Surprise! Boise State will host the 5A, 4A football state championship games. Here’s why.

Highland quarterback Dakota Tillotson holds the state 2014 5A football championship trophy up in the air at Albertsons Stadium in Boise.
Highland quarterback Dakota Tillotson holds the state 2014 5A football championship trophy up in the air at Albertsons Stadium in Boise. doswald@idahostatesman.com

Idaho’s 5A and 4A high school football championship games will return to Boise State’s Albertsons Stadium on Saturday, a move that caught fans, coaches and administrators throughout the state off guard.

Information on the Idaho High School Activities Association website showed those games heading to Pocatello’s Holt Arena based on the results from Friday’s semifinal round. But the state association instead announced late Friday night that Boise State’s iconic blue turf will host both the 5A and 4A championships.

Rocky Mountain (11-0) battles Highland (10-1) for the 5A title at 10 a.m. Saturday. Bishop Kelly (10-1) and Hillcrest (11-1) follow in the 4A championship at 1 p.m.

The 3A to 1A championship games were not available at press time Saturday.

[Related: 5A to 1A state playoff brackets]

How did this happen?

The confusion stemmed from dueling information on the IHSAA’s website. Idaho typically rotates its championship football games based on historical matchups. For example, the last time a Boise-based 5A team faced an Eastern Idaho opponent in the state championship, Albertsons Stadium hosted the matchup. The same goes for 4A.

By that logic, and the Milk Bowl rotation distributed by the IHSAA, Pocatello’s Holt Arena would host this year’s title games. But an overlooked portion of the state rulebook and state tournament manual makes that impossible.

Both detail that none of the state’s three regions — Boise, North Idaho or East Idaho — can host the state championship game in consecutive years unless two teams from that region meet in the final.

Holt Arena hosted last season’s 5A and 4A championship games. So unless Highland faced Madison or Hillcrest battled Minico, for example, the 5A and 4A championship games could not return to Holt Arena in 2018.

“I know there are people out there that are saying we are making stuff up as we go,” IHSAA Executive Director Ty Jones said. “This has been in our rules and regulations for 20-plus years. We don’t make stuff up on the fly. We just follow the rules we have in place.”

Jones said the one-page Milk Bowl rotation document was never meant to stand as the end-all, be-all for championship scenarios. He said he sent out an email earlier in the week warning administrators of this exact scenario, but many referred back to the Milk Bowl rotation document.

“In fairness to all the schools, we definitely could have done a better job of getting information out that is more condensed,” Jones said. “It’s something we will look at in the future.”

Jones said the rule allows Idaho to ensure the state championship game rotates through each region. But he said the IHSAA board will revisit the rule at its next meeting Dec. 4.

Confusion and backlash

Any information sent from the state last week didn’t make its way to the public, leading to widespread confusion Friday night. Bishop Kelly announced to its fans it would head to Holt Arena next week. And Highland celebrated its victory under the assumption it would get one more game on its home field.

Highland coach Gino Mariani said he preached to his team that if they kept winning, the Rams would bring the state championship game back to Holt Arena. He didn’t learn that was never true until after 11 p.m. Friday night.

“If that’s the way it is, they should probably tell people the month of the playoffs this is where Highland will play, this is where Hillcrest will play. None of that came out until both Hillcrest and Highland won.

“People make plans and tell their kids. Now we’re searching for hotel rooms on a Friday night in Boise.”

Mariani directed his frustration at the IHSAA.

“They just don’t see the big picture,” he said. “It’s sad, the people at the state level. We’re talking about the 5A state championship and the 4A state championship, and this is how they treat you?

“You look at neighboring states and they’ve got things together and it’s big time. We’re not.”

Why Saturday, and why so early?

Conflicts with Boise State’s schedules tied the IHSAA’s hands. The Broncos’ football team is out of town, but Boise State hosts a men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader Friday night, ruling out Albertsons Stadium because it and Taco Bell Arena share a parking lot.

A private event at the Stueckle Sky Center and a Twenty One Pilots concert at 7 p.m. Saturday at Taco Bell Arena further narrowed the window for the state championship games. Jones said the only times Boise State could give the IHSAA were 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s just what they had,” he said. “We have two choices. If want to use their facility — which in all honesty, we do. We like being there, and all three places treat us really well. All of our kids love playing on those college fields.

“Or the other option is to say, ‘I guess we’ll go host it at high schools,’ and then how good is the seating and all that type of stuff? There’s no way you could put a 5A or a well-attended 4A game at a local high school. It just could not be logistically done.”

The 5A championship drew the early game because Highland of Pocatello will travel fewer miles than Hillcrest of Idaho Falls.