ROCHESTER, NY — Finney/Northstar Christian Academy and the Holley Hawks are the first high school football teams in Section V lining up to play eight-man football this fall, instead of the traditional 11-man game.
The two teams have joined a six-team league that includes small schools in the Binghamton-region of the state.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association is examining if reduced-man football can be a solution where there are concerns whether schools have enough players to field a team for an entire season.
The varsity Holley and Finney/Northstar coaches said the teams would have struggled to maintain the 16-player roster required by the NYPSHSAA to play 11-man football.
Class C and D schools, the smallest in the NYSPHSAA's divisions based on student enrollment, were the only teams eligible to join the eight-man football league this fall.
“I could potentially see that changing," Section V football coordinator Scott Barker said. "I don’t believe that low numbers is solely an issue of C and D schools.
"We’ve got Class A schools and B schools right here in Section V which sometimes have numbers around 20.”
Injuries, suspensions and issues with academic eligibility with a roster that size, or a combination of the three, puts a team's season in jeopardy.
Joe Marchand, athletic director at Finney and the Finney/Northstar Christian football coach, said he counted 20 players returning to either the varsity or modified teams this fall. He was certain about 14 of those players, so moving into eight-man became an attractive option after attending an informational meeting in March.
"I was panicking back in February, I was panicking," Marchand said. "What are we going to do? We don’t have enough to play 11-man varsity football against the Alexanders, Clyde-Savannahs, the Lyons.
"It’s a great option. We still have football at our school.”
How does eight-man football look?
The eight-man version of football under the NYSPHSAA calls for teams to have at least 12 players on rosters. An offense must have five players on the line of scrimmage.
Teams in the Syracuse-region which went to eight-man football last season, tend to remove two linemen, plus a back or receiver. Defenses adjust the number of linemen, linebacker and backs, just like in 11-man football.
"There’s really nothing different about it," Northstar Christian senior Michael Brown said. "There’s still a kickoff and a kickoff return, but with three less people.
“Actually, I’m excited. With less guys, I feel I’ll have more room to operate.”
Holley coach Will Prince and Marchand said they did have to convince some of the players on their teams to accept the selling points about eight-man football.
“We’ve had to convince a lot of people that it’s still football," Prince said. "The alternative choice is, no football.
"We fielded teams with players in eighth grade all the way up to seniors, and we’re still only getting 28 kids. We’ve been struggling. We’ve been competitive, but it just got to the point where last year we graduated 14 seniors. That’s tough to replace. The writing was on the wall.”
8-man football state blueprint
Holley and Finney/Northstar Christian will play five regular season games, including one each against Section IV-based Unadilla Valley, Oxford, Newfield and Lansing. FInney/Northstar plays at Holley during Week 1, the weekend of Sept. 14-15.
The top four teams at the end of the regular season advance to a playoff game Oct. 19 or Oct. 20. Then comes a championship game the following weekend at Binghamton's Alumni Stadium.
“We start a little bit later, Aug. 27," Marchand said. "That allows the kids to have a little bit more of a summer. The coaches have a little bit more of a summer.
“Our coaches said, if we are going to go to eight-man, we are going to commit to it. Let us be the exemplary team."