Printed on: January 17, 2013

Six-man football set for kickoff this fall

By Michael Lycklama
mlycklama@postregister.com

Six-man football is officially coming to Idaho.

The Idaho High School Activities Association board of directors voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a pilot program that will bring 6-man football to Idaho starting this fall.

That approval allows four schools -- Clark County, Leadore, North Valley Academy in Gooding and Camas County in Fairfield -- to compete in an Idaho 6-man football league this fall as part of a three-year trial run. Twin Falls Christian Academy has also expressed interest in founding a program.

But the IHSAA's approval comes with several conditions:

The IHSAA must vote to extend 6-man football at the end of each year during the three-year pilot.

The IHSAA will not sponsor a 6-man state tournament during the pilot period.

Once a school begins football practice, it can not drop from 8-man to 6-man.

Eleven- and 8-man football teams may petition the IHSAA to play only one 6-man game per season.

"It gives those smaller schools an opportunity to play," IHSAA board member Bryan Jolley said. "And that's really what we're all about -- opportunities for kids. And I think this offers a little more of it."

The 6-man spin on football is a new one for Camas County, which dropped to a JV schedule in 2011 before returning to varsity status in 2012, and North Valley, which had to fold its newly-created program this past fall. But Clark County and Leadore have experience with the game, competing in Montana's 6-man football classification. Clark County joined in 2006 and Leadore followed in 2007, fielding its first football team in 19 years.

But Montana asked the two schools to leave after the 2009 season. Clark County shifted to 8-man football in Idaho's 1A Division II classification. Leadore hasn't fielded a team since.

Clark County football coach Jon Farr admits he opposed the move to Montana's 6-man football at first. But a group of parents changed his mind, and he jumped at the chance to bring it to Idaho.

"I had a couple parents say, 'We just want our kids to enjoy their experience in high school,'" Farr said. "'We don't care if it's in band or football. We just want them to look back in 20 years and enjoy their experience in high school.'"

The pilot program has met plenty of opposition from existing 8-man football schools that fear 6-man football will create more travel and expenses, lead to a new classification or replace the existing 1A Division II classification, which could force them to compete against larger schools.

But for schools considering 6-man football, it gives them an option to field a team without consolidating with neighboring communities. Clark County would have played a JV schedule this fall due to low turnout. And Leadore, which has no boys in its incoming freshman class, is unsure whether it has enough players to field even a 6-man team.

"It would be a nice option," Leadore athletic director Shane Matson said. "I know some coaches and athletic directors in 8-man football oppose it. But I feel bad in their opposition because it limits schools like us to even have a program."

The pilot starts this fall with four schools, possibly five if Twin Falls Christian joins. But Farr said he expects more schools to join 6-man football -- which was previously played in Idaho in the 1940s and '50s -- once it gets established.

"If we can make a good season happen for a year or two, I think there will be another half-dozen schools interested in it," Farr said. "Teams are interested. They just want to make sure the league is going to happen.

"The reality is several schools are right at the minimum number (of players) to maintain an 8-man program. The reality is, eventually, they're going to be forced into it, or they're not going to have football."

6-man football primer

Six-man football features most of the same rules as 11- or 8-man football with the following exceptions:

A team must gain 15 yards for a first down.

The field is 80 yards long by 40 yards wide.

The player who receives the snap from center can't run the ball past the line of scrimmage unless he's handed it to another player first.

At least three players must be on the line of scrimmage at the snap.

All players are eligible to receive a pass.

Field goals are worth four points. A kicked point after touchdown is worth two points. A point after via run or pass is worth one point.