Declining participation has forced 1-A and 2-A schools in Illinois to take a hard look at adopting eight-man football. The 13 Sports Authority explores the option for programs feeling the squeeze of smaller rosters.
Nine forfeits, eight-man football. That was Christian Life's campaign in Bill Shepard's first year as head coach. He says it will be a fixture for the Eagles' foreseeable future.
"Probably going to go eight-man for the next few years because we want to build back our tradition that was lost because of numbers," Shepard said.
Troy Barr and Aquin are also fighting small numbers due to low enrollment. There's also the growth of year-round sports.
"Football isn't a sport you can play club sports in," Barr said. "You see a lot of club basketball, soccer, and baseball, it impacts the kids. They can do something they couldn't do twenty years ago in the fall season."
The IHSA does not sanction eight-man football, but Christian Life hasn't had an issue scheduling opponents.
"We received calls from Wisconsin, even Michigan, for teams looking for eight-man games. It's not like we can't find it. It's if travel is an issue," says Shepard.
It's not just a private school problem. Pecatonica and Durand are co-oping next year because of their low roster numbers. The eight-man prospect isn't leaving the IHSA's desk any time soon. It isn't going away for small schools already on board, or thinking about the possibility.
"They'll have to push in this direction because there's a lot of small schools in the state of Illinois that can't play an eleven-man schedule any longer," said Shepard. "So they have to make the choice of either to co-op, drop their program, or go to eight-man."
"Four or five years, it's something we'll seriously have to consider because the population of Freeport isn't growing and that doesn't help anyone's enrollment," said Barr. "Do we want to do it? Probably not, however, our goal is to give the kids the best opportunity to play football. It's an experience they can't get anywhere else. If they don't play football, it's a shame so I hope we can figure something out."
Small town football is lined up against a potential face lift, but whether it's eight or eleven men, the lights will still be on in the fall on Friday night