HIGH SCHOOLS – For now, 11-man football still has a monopoly in Section II. How long it stays that way is anyone’s guess.
With only six Class D schools participating, three of them combined teams, several combined teams in Class C and several Class C schools with recent history of low participation numbers, it remains a question whether eight-man football might return to the section after a long hiatus.
More than 50 schools statewide participate in eight-man football, the closest being in Sections III and IV, and this year the New York State Public High School Athletic Association took a couple of steps toward standardizing things in the sport. It came up with an official width of the field and also added a regional round of playoffs. Those will take place the same weekend as the Section II quarterfinals.
Justin Culligan, assistant coach at Corinth/Hadley-Luzerne and a former head and assistant coach at Whitehall, Corinth and Granville, said several schools in the northern Capital District such as Fort Ann, Hartford, Argyle and Hadley-Luzerne used to play eight-man football in the 1970s and early 1980s.
According to Section II football coordinator Bob Dorrance, seven Section II schools and Ticonderoga of Section VII met a couple of times last winter to explore the possibility of eight-man football.
Corinth was one of those schools. Culligan said that one of the fears by some schools was that community reaction to switching to eight-man would be bad. But he thinks eight-man might be better than the alternative.
“We thought with eight-man, it kept that identity with lower numbers, but some people were hesitant,” Culligan said. “The problem is a lot of these schools can’t support a varsity, JV and modified teams.”
Dorrance said he’s always concerned with low numbers.
“I mean, I’m an 11-man guy, but I do know the group was pretty quick to determine they wanted to stay at 11-man,” Dorrance said “One of the things they mentioned was that the minimum number of players for 11-man is 16 dressed. Well, the minimum for 8-man is 14 dressed. So I think most of them felt like, ‘I’m going to beat the bushes to find those extra few guys.’ ”
Gary Morin, head coach of Heldeberg Valley, which combines the Berne-Knox-Westerlo and Duanesburg schools, was part of the exploratory committee. He said the closeness of minimum-number-dressed was the general reason for not exploring eight-man further, but he said some of the schools had other reasons.
“For me, anytime we can shoot to play 11-man, I think that’s in everyone’s best interests. Our numbers are pretty good, we should be OK. The smaller schools [than us] have some other things to deal with. The jump from modified to varsity is a trouble for some schools. But it really wasn’t anything to push us over the edge [to switch to eight-man].”
Culligan is also happy 11-man football remains in place, but he sees the low numbers as an ongoing issue that will keep the possibility of eight-man in play.
“I’m on the Section II football committee, and every year we’re having the fight to get teams to play nine games when they’re either low on numbers because of injuries or whatever,” Culligan said. “I think there’s a murmur [about eight-man] that’s going to come to the forefront.”
Also, Culligan points out, eight-man is exciting to play and watch.
“If you watch eight-man football, it’s fast, they’re throwing the ball, which is what kids want to do anyway. And all these college coaches are looking for speed. And Texas we think of as this big state for the best 11-man football, but it has a thriving six-man league too,” he said.