Fambrough: Eight-man football could benefit smaller schools

Louisiana High School Athletic Association member principals will have their hands full at the annual convention set for Jan. 27-29.

Each classification will be charged with deciding whether to continue the split football championships. Major changes for attendance zone and transfer rules are on the table.

Another football proposal — one that would allow some schools to play eight-man football — may go relatively unnoticed. However, the impact it could have for some long-suffering Class 1A programs and other schools, including the Louisiana School for the Deaf, would be significant.

“I think the biggest thing is getting past the misconceptions,” LSD coach Darren Gremillion said. “And there are several.

“Probably the biggest one is that eight-man football is not arena football.”

Gremillion understands the apprehension some administrators and coaches feel. He wasn’t sold on eight-man football when LSD opted to play it instead of 11-man football in 1998. But the reasons for that move mirror issues some schools face now.

“We were playing 11-man football with 17 guys on our team,” Gremillion said. “That’s very difficult, if not impossible. We were a Class C school in enrollment. The other deaf schools were already playing it.

“What really sold me on eight-man football was when I realized you could still play power football. It can be as simple or diverse as you want it to be.”

Gremillion correctly noted that several Class 1A schools are struggling with the issues the War Eagles had, such as with small numbers that get compounded by injuries. The list of 1A/Division IV schools that opted out of the playoffs last fall included Ecole Classique, Ridgewood and Crescent City.

A key point to note is that 1A is the LHSAA’s lowest football class and schools with smaller enrollments have to “play up” to offer football.

Adding eight-man football could solve those problems and make it easier for Class B and C schools interested in football to offer it.

But there are the misconceptions. For example:

The playing field is a different size. No, LSD and all its eight-man opponents play on a regulation 100-yard field.

Eight-man football is an offense-only game. LSD had two games last fall that ended in scores of 12-6 and 14-8.

It will be difficult for the players, and especially the officials, to pick up on the differences. Gremillion said the key rule to remember is that the last man on the line, regardless of what number he is wearing, is an eligible receiver.

Basketball may be the other major obstacle. The proposal would allow schools to compete in eight-man football and retain their status in Class B or C in other sports.

Basketball practice for B-C schools starts about a month earlier than 5A to 1A schools because, after all, there is no football for those schools. A compromise on practice dates would be needed.

Gremillion said his players ask about the eight-man proposal several times a week. But it is anything but a sure thing.

The LHSAA planned a survey to find out how many schools would be interested. No one knows that number or how many schools it would take to make adding eight-man football viable.

Critics will say the LHSAA already has too many football championships anyway, thanks to the select/nonselect playoff split.

Ironically, that very argument could be a selling point. LHSAA principals were willing to approve the split to give more schools a chance to win a championship. Wouldn’t eight-man football accomplish the same thing?