ATHENA — Nine-man football is coming to a field near you.
With declining enrollment in some small-school communities, the Oregon School Activities Association has decided to play nine-man football at the 2A level.
“So far, it has been well-received,” OSAA Executive Director Kris Welch said. “They were told about it last year. I haven’t heard a lot of negative stuff. I don’t think they will voice that until they have played a full season. We did this to help save football in small communities. I think it was a good decision.”
According to Welch, there were several meetings and discussions at the state level about the move.
“People saw the benefit of growing the game, and being able to have a football team,” he said.
It also creates the possibility of being able to have junior varsity teams because less players are needed.
In Umatilla and Morrow counties, six schools — Heppner, Irrigon, Stanfield, Riverside, Umatilla and Weston-McEwen — which all play in the Blue Mountain Conference, along with Grant Union, will play nine-man football this fall.
Weston-McEwen coach Kenzie Hansel said whether it be 11-man or nine-man, his team is just excited to play the game.
“We are always excited to play football and represent our families, community and our school,” he said. “We’re going to go out there and continue to compete. Touchdowns are still six points. We are excited about the upcoming season. We look forward to getting back on the field.”
As a staff, Hansell and his assistants have had to do their homework to understand the workings of the nine-man game.
At the snap of the ball, the team on offense has to have at least five players on the line of scrimmage. The remaining players are in the backfield.
“We are going to have to do things differently and adjust,” Hansell said. “In reality, we’re still playing football and we are excited about that. We’re excited with the amount of student athletes that want to play football. One thing that is important is our family atmosphere. We won’t lose that.”
The TigerScots actually played nine-man football last year against Riverside, as did a few other teams.
“Our program will continue to grow whether it’s nine-man or 11-man,” Hansell said.
A small percentage (17%) of nine-man football games are played on a smaller field measuring 80 yards long by 40 yards wide. A standard football field for NFL, college and high school is 100 yards long by 53⅓ yards wide.
Welch said that the size of the field will not change.
“The six-player and eight-player games are not played on a smaller field,” Welch said. “As of now, all games will be played on a 100-yard field. Schools move up and down, and teams that want to play an 11-player game out of league need to have the facility.”
Nine-man football is not as popular as 11-man or 8-man, but seems to be a compromise for a few states.
In 2018, a count of schools nationwide which sponsored six/eight/nine-man football teams, found that just three states had nine-man football, with South Dakota leading the way with 76, while Minnesota had 63 and North Dakota 43.
Wyoming, which had nine-man football from 1989-94, brought back the nine-man game in 2020, with 12 teams.
Oregon will have 37 schools offering nine-man football. Of the 38 2A schools in Oregon, one has opted to play up at the 3A level rather than play nine-man ball.
“Any 2A school that wanted to play 11-man moved to 3A,” Welch said. The only one who opted to do that was Kennedy.”
The Trojans will move out of the Tri-River Conference and play football in the 3A Special District 2. The move is just for football.