SALEM — Nine-man football appears to be off the table.
The Oregon School Activities Association’s Football Ad Hoc Committee dropped support of a considered move that would have drastically altered the 2A and 1A game and divided the schools into large and small school divisions of nine-man football.
Instead, 2A schools will continue to play 11-man football, while larger 1A schools will remain at the eight-man level.
Backing nine-man football was shelved after the vast majority of eight-man schools — about 95% — said they favored eight-man over nine, according to an Oregonian report last week.
Powder Valley High School was adamant against the proposed nine-man football, with head coach Josh Cobb speaking out after the initial proposals on Tuesday, Dec. 20. Superintendent Lance Dixon and Athletic Director Brad Dunten both spoke at the most recent OSAA meeting, on Jan. 5, and Dunten presented a survey he conducted among 1A representatives.
Dunten noted that the majority of the survey took in results from athletic directors and school officials at the 1A level, with a small number of principals and coaches responding. The survey showed that the majority of the 80 responses from 95 1A schools and one 2A school favored eight-man football over nine-man. Just over 86% of those surveyed were against the six-man/nine-man/11-man model, while 79.5% voted that 2A through 6A classifications should not have a say on the future of eight-man football.
Dixon noted that the proposal of doing away with eight-man football united 1A schools and representatives, which is not always common. He also stated that switching to nine-man football could have a negative impact on schools on the east side of the state, which would be unable to play non-league games against Washington and Idaho schools that play strictly eight-man and 11-man football. Dixon emphasized his concern over impacts on the school’s budget if travel plans were affected by the potential new football alignment.
Dixon further noted that getting rid of eight-man football would force schools with limited rosters to have to play down or throw out unprepared freshmen in order to meet the standards of six-man or nine-man football.
Dixon said that roughly one-third of Powder Valley’s 90 students are listed on the football team’s roster, which would eliminate any need for the school to play six-man football.
The original proposal from Dec. 20 slated the Badgers to be moved down from eight-man to six-man competition.
“I would hate to think that a school with 90 students in their student body and 25 players on their roster would be forced to play some of these schools that have 25 or 30 kids in the high school and 12 kids on the roster that still want to play eight-man football,” Dixon said at the meeting.
Adrian High School, Powder Valley’s 1A state championship counterpart this past season, also voiced displeasure over doing away with eight-man football.
“Eight-man is the greatest form of football in my opinion, and it is one of the fastest growing forms of football,” Adrian head coach Billy Wortman said at the meeting.
According to the update from the OSAA, schools will have an option to play nine-man “when necessary and appropriate.”
Six-man football will continue to be offered by the OSAA for smaller 1A schools, and the OSAA is considering sanctioning the sport, meaning schools at that level would have the ability to play for an official state championship.
Six-man has been a pilot program the last four years, and participating teams had played for a de-facto title.
The current proposal would align Union County 1A schools in a similar district to the existing leagues, continuing to play eight-man football. Powder Valley, Cove, Elgin, Imbler and Union would compete in the 1A Special District 3, alongside Adrian, Crane and Wallowa.
Enterprise, under the current proposal, is listed as part of the 2A ranks, and would be one of six teams in Special District 5, alongside Grant Union, Heppner, Irrigon, Stanfield and Weston-McEwen. The Outlaws had played down to eight-man the previous four years.
The OSAA plans to keep play-down options in place for schools that have struggled at their slotted classifications, but is considering adding criteria that schools who play down would be ineligible for the postseason.
Joseph would remain at the six-man ranks as part of Special District 1. The rest of the district includes Dayville/Monument, Echo, Huntington, Wheeler County, Pine Eagle, Prairie City/Burnt River, and South Wasco County.
On Dec. 20, the ad hoc committee made a recommendation of a new 2A and 1A hybrid classification, combining Oregon’s 2A and 1A schools into three groups: a nine-man football Division 1 classification mostly made of 2A teams, a nine-man football Division 2 classification made of smaller 2A teams and bigger 1A teams, and a six-man football classification for the smaller 1A programs.
The next meeting of the football ad hoc committee will be on Jan. 19.
— Oregonian reporter Nik Streng contributed to this report.