By GARRETT SEARIGHT
I love football Friday nights in Limaland. I really, honestly, truly do. The entire community supporting the team. The crisp fall air. The band in the stands. The lights. The sound. I love it.
I would love for every community to feel that pride on a fall Friday night.
It’s time, in my opinion, for 8-man football to come to Ohio.
Currently, 30 states have “reduced-man football”, with most states sponsoring the 8-man variety, while there are leagues of 9-man and 6-man squads.
Vanlue is the smallest school in Ohio with football, with 30 boys in their entire high school. It’s valiant that Vanlue still trots out a squad every year, but I find it hard to believe it wouldn’t be better for all parties involved for the Wildcats to play an 8-man schedule. Van Buren is a small school, by most comparisons. But compared to Vanlue, Van Buren is a giant. The Black Knights have over five times as many boys in their high school. That’s a huge gap.
I realize football is the most expensive sport for a school, but it also, for most schools, produces the most revenue.
The addition of 8-man football would give countless schools throughout the state the chance to play the game. Of course, the OHSAA would have to place restrictions on who could be in the 8-man division. I could easily see a traditionally below-average Division II or III program say “we’re an 8-man school, now!” looking for easy success, but ideally, it would be for schools that are currently in Division VII or don’t have football. The 12 area schools who currently don’t field teams range from 46 to 117 boys in their high school.
We love our football in Ohio. We’ve got seven divisions of high school, eight NCAA Division I programs, 10 NCAA Division II programs, 21 NCAA Division III programs, one NAIA football program, and two NFL franchises. Ohio produces the 10th most “blue-chip” recruits in the nation. Pigskin is a big deal, and right now, 75 schools in the state can’t participate.
In 2014, Dr. Dan Ross, the Executive Director of the OHSAA said he had heard from athletic directors in the northwest and southeast portions of the state, expressing their interest in playing 8-man football. I haven’t heard anything more about the possibility of adding 8-man football since then, but it’s something the state should explore again. Seriously explore. Find out what schools are really interested in launching programs.
The OHSAA currently has a rule that 150 schools have to participate in a sport before it can be recognized as an official sport. I’d certainly hope they’d wave that with the idea of starting 8-man football.
As I’ve written in this space before, I learned more life lessons from playing high school football than I ever did sitting in a classroom. I just wish everyone had that opportunity.