Sullivan West leads call for eight-man football
LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — Sullivan West could see the resurgence of Bulldogs football as the district spearheads the charge to downsize the required number of players on the field from 11 to eight, with numerous area schools expected to follow suit.
Athletic director David Franskevicz reported on December 14, 2017 to the Sullivan West Central School District Board of Education that January 4 is the deadline for the district to commit to Section IX as to whether it will field its own team this upcoming season.
Last year, the district merged its varsity football program with Roscoe-Livingston Manor-Downsville due to having insufficient numbers to meet the quota of 16 team members available to play 11-man football.
Franskevicz said the prospective “numbers are not balancing out yet” to meet that standard again; however, there is now a precedent for converting to eight-man football. This action drops the team roster from 16 to 12.
Recognizing the similar football challenge many districts are facing, he said, “They anticipate probably two to three years out that this will probably spread state-wide.”
Sullivan West recently sponsored a meeting that included sectional and league officials, and representatives from every district’s football team in Sullivan County except Monticello, to glean more details on how the conversion would work.
This came on the heels of a November interscholastic meeting revealing that Fallsburg had dropped its football team, while Eldred, Tri-Valley and Liberty all ran short of players. Sullivan West sent five students (three seniors and two juniors) to play on the combined team with the Roscoe, Livingston Manor, and Downsville athletes.
Section III in the Syracuse area served as a case study for converting to eight-man football in which six teams participated successfully, leading to a championship game at the Carrier Dome at Syracuse University. The rules are largely the same as for larger teams. The only notable change is the dimension of the playing field.
“As the conversation went on, the feeling was that this is the answer to a numbers problem,” Franskevicz said. “That’s the direction we’re heading in.”
Board member Ralph Huggler, Sr. asked, “Why wouldn’t we do this?”
Franskevicz said traditionalists may argue that football should have 11 players on the field.
“Well, reality has set in, so I’m all for it,” Huggler responded.
Having watched eight-man games and spoken with individuals involved for research, board member Trevor Peachey said he detected an unintended positive consequence.
“It changes the perspective of the athlete. Everybody has to be able to run fast. It could bring in a whole other athlete like a soccer player where you’re used to moving more. I find that encouraging,” he said.
Board member Juliete Gaebel said that “a big thing to point out to the traditionalists” is that this restructuring would enable more schools to field their own teams and play each other under the spirited rivalries that always existed in Sullivan County.
Board member Ken Cohen said he has been a long-time advocate for the practice of eight-man football.
“Good for you for going through with this and exploring it,” he said in applauding Franskevicz for his coordination and leadership role in bringing this to the table.
While Cohen expressed support for the junior varsity and modified football teams taking on the same structure to build them up for the varsity program, Franskevicz said Section IX has made no determinations about that yet.
He clarified that the January 4 deadline applies to districts declaring whether they will play in the next season, not whether it will be with eight or 11 players on the field.
After briefing the school board, Franskevicz held a December 18 public meeting with the Sullivan West community which emphasized attendance by prospective football players currently in grades six to 11 and their parents to review the concept.