CLIMAX, Mich. (WOOD) — More high school football programs across West Michigan are switching from 11-player to eight-player leagues.
Climax-Scotts Community Schools’ varsity team will be competing in the eight-player format for the first time this fall. The district switched its junior varsity team in 2017.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association says it expects an additional 10 to 12 teams in eight-player football leagues this year. According to spokesperson Geoff Kimmerly, the state had 65 teams playing with eight players last year.
The MHSAA has seen enrollment decline amid mounting concern about concussions among players.
“We’re fighting pretty hard to keep people active and interested in athletics,” Kimmerly said.
The organization says updated rules, practice changes and advancements in equipment have made the sport safer.
“I think we all know families that have said ‘I don’t want my child playing that sport,’ and those are the ones that we’re trying to help fill in on all the good things about the game,” Kimmerly said.
While the format has changed for many schools, the MHSAA says the game is not going away.
“Although there’s been some participation going down in football, the number of teams in football hasn’t really changed. It’s just a lot have moved from 11 to eight (players),” Kimmerly said.
Climax-Scotts head coach and Athletic Director Kevin Langs says his district switched its varsity team not because of a lack of interest, but a lack of rival schools nearby with a similar size team.
“We did just about everything we could to hang on to 11-man, but it got to a point where it was just, the dynamics didn’t make any sense,” Langs said. “We were traveling 1,500 miles.”
The schedule last year had just one home game, but the eight-player league this year will allow Climax-Scotts varsity team to have five home games.
“For us, it’s the direction that is most beneficial to our kids and our community. I think for schools our size, it’s about the only option,” said Langs.
He says the assumption that eight-player football is not as prestigious as 11-player football is simply untrue.
“Same rules, it really is. It’s tackling, it’s blocking. Now the difference is in the State of Michigan. It’s (the field is) 100 yards long still, but the width is only 40,” Langs said.
Climax-Scotts first day of football practice is Monday. The varsity team’s first home game is Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.