Schools with declining or small student enrollments interested in playing football have turned to nine-, eight- and six-man versions of the 11-man game for decades.
A move to one of these versions becomes the alternative for high schools, rather than discontinuing the football program, if a school or district is unable to work out a merger to boost roster sizes.
Football with less than 11 players on each side is played in at least 30 states and in other countries.
Members schools of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association returned to that list in 2017, by bringing back eight-man football after more than 30 years.
Eight-man vs. 11-man football
The size of the field is reduced along with the number of players in some states. The NYSPHSAA is sticking with the common 120-yard long, 53 1/3-yard wide fields at high schools or off-campus venues.
Offenses are required to line up five players on the line of scrimmage, instead of the seven required in traditional football. The NYSPHSAA will keep 12-minute quarters and all current kicking plays in the game.
“All of the rules are the same,” NYSPHSAA state football committee member Keith Kempney said.
Eight-man football eye test
There should be less mismatches along the line of scrimmage, the 160-pound sophomore lining up across from the 260-pound senior.
“We would’ve went out there with that type of matchup in 11-man,” Finney/Northstar coach Joe Marchand said. “Is it right to put my kids out there?
“I don’t want to coach like that, coach under the stress of making sure we had enough players that were in proper positions. I don’t think we have to do that anymore.”
The trend in eight-man football is to take the players at the offensive tackle positions off the field, along with a back or receiver, and defenses adjust the type of players used based on the opposing formation.
Eight-man football action
People who promote eight- and other reduced-man games point to the potential of more scoring. Fewer players on the field, means offenses have more space to work with, is the thought.
Less players on the field did lead Syracuse-region eight-man football teams to attempt more two-point conversions, because one-point kick conversions are easier to block, Kempney said.
So did scoring among those teams skyrocket, producing basketball-like scores where Kempney is co-coordinator of Section III football?
“That was one of the big surprises,” Kempney said. “We had two different games where teams got up into the 70s. The rest were 30s and 40s.
“We had Class AA teams (playing 11-man football) getting up into the 70s two or three times last year. We thought the scoring was going to be high, but Big 12 (college) football have games in the 60s every week.”
Less players to cover the field does just about invites teams to try onside, high looping and low, hard kickoffs in attempts to recover the ball.
“I was doing that in 11-man football,” Marchand said.
NYSPHSAA’s eight-man football
There are no records of eight- or any other type of reduced-man high school football which exist in Section V, according to Section V football coordinator Scott Barker.
Former NYSPHSAA state and Section V football coordinator Dick Cerone also has no recollection of reduced-man football in Section V.
Cerone does remember reduced-man teams in the part of the state known as the North Country, that includes Saint Lawrence and Jefferson counties — the NYSPHSAA’s Section X — during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“Little by little they discontinued,” Cerone said. “Teams (and school districts) starting merging together and played 11-man football.
“In three or four years, the (reduced-man teams) slipped away. Now, it’s like the pendulum is swinging back.”
Holley and Finney/Northstar are the first teams in the greater Rochester region to join one of the three eight-man football leagues around New York state formed by NYSPHSAA schools.
The six-team group that includes Finney/Northstar and Holley have five-game regular season schedules. All of the teams in this group, most are in the Binghamton-region, are going to have lengthy bus rides to some of the games.
There is a four-team playoff round for the Section IV/Section V eight-man football group, with a regional championship game in Binghamton Oct. 26 or Oct. 27, the finale for a seven-week season of games. Finney/Northstar also scheduled a preseason scrimmage, Marchand said.
Section V 11-man football teams have an eight-game regular-season schedule, with the potential to play up to 13 games after advancing through playoffs.
There are seven teams in another group of eight-man teams which includes schools in Section III and one from Section X. The third group is located downstate in Section IX or Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties.
“They don’t have any Class D (11-man) football in Section IX,” Kempney said. “They are all playing eight-man.
“I don’t see it going it away but I don’t know how far it will spread. Any school that’s under 20 players consistently, should at least have the conversation.”