VHSL mulls making changes to help football programs

Billy Haun

With three schools, Charles City, Manassas Park and Park View canceling their football seasons, Virginia High School League Executive Director Billy Haun said he understands changes need to be made.

The Strasburg graduate said that over the next year the league will look at a lot of different things to try to keep this trend from continuing. One possibility is the addition of eight-man football.

“In a participation survey done by the National Federation of State High Schools, the number of schools that are playing six-man and eight-man football is increasing, and that’s because of lower enrollment in some of our schools,” Haun said. “One of our staff members was at an athletic directors meeting in southwest Virginia last week and the athletic directors were discussing that to save their (junior varsity) programs they may go to eight-man football and then have 11-man football at the varsity level. But for the JV programs, maybe use eight-man football.”

Haun said he believes that as early as next year Virginia could have eight-man football, especially at the junior varsity level.

He said that a number of schools in Virginia are having a varsity team this season, but not a junior varsity team.

Haun said that there are seven private schools in Virginia playing eight-man football instead of 11-man football this season.

There are 32 states that have eight-man football. The main advantage of eight-man football is being able to have fewer players on a team to still have a season.

Generally, teams play without two offensive tackles and a skill player on offense, and without two defensive backs and a defensive lineman on defense.

Since they play with six fewer players, the size of the playing field is usually 13 yards smaller in width but usually still 100 yards long. The rules of the game are the same as in 11-man football.

Skyline Athletic Director Bill Cupp said that he’s seen eight-man football and it reminds him a lot of the Arena Football League with a lot more scoring, and fans seem to like it.

“What would that be like (in Virginia)?” Cupp said. “Would a community accept that? Would they rather just not play at all versus going to eight-man football? People are so unfamiliar with it. Texas, Oklahoma have it. States that are more rural that have smaller populations have it, and in those areas it is huge.”

The eight-man football wouldn’t be replacing 11-man football, but just give some schools another option if they’re having trouble fielding a team.

Haun said they will be sending out a survey to see how many schools might be interested in eight-man football as well as talking about it during the upcoming year at VHSL meetings.

“I think it’s a viable option,” Haun said of eight-man football. “Rather than a school just totally dropping their football program, I think it gives students an opportunity to participate in football for an eight-man versus no football. I think it’s an option that we need to look at, provide for our schools if there is enough desire out there to take a look at it.”

Haun said a thing that has become worrying is kids who are specializing in one sport. He said it’s not just football that’s being affected by specialization and it’s not just boys sports.

“This is a story in girls sports as well,” Haun said. “There’s a lot of travel junior volleyball and AAU volleyball. There’s a lot of girls playing softball year-round. I think if you would talk to some people there’s a decline in the number of field hockey players and the number of basketball players because of the travel volleyball and so forth. So it’s affecting all the sports. I think that part – the specialization piece – is affecting a lot of sports, not just football.”

Haun said they plan on sending out a survey to try to find out how many athletes at each school are playing just one sport, two sports or three sports.

He said he’s had requests from athletic directors, coaches and principals to take a look at the out-of-season practice rule. Right now, athletes and teams are allowed to practice year-round at each school with the exception of a few weeks throughout the year, which are deemed as dead periods.

Haun said that he believes there will be more changes to come nationally to make football a safer sport, but ultimately only so much can be done.

“I think some more rule changes will come that will make it safer,” he said. “But at the same time anytime you got a full-contact sport – there’s always going to be that chance of collisions and serious injuries with a sport like football.”