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Eight-Man Football Know-How

By Justin Skiba

The Sevastopol Pioneers and the Gibraltar Vikings recently completed their third seasons of eight-man football. Since 2013, Door County residents have been exposed to this slightly different brand of fast-paced, high-energy football. Those who have witnessed a game first-hand will notice that it features high-scoring, big plays, and the same hard-hitting intensity found in the traditional 11-man game.

Eight-man football (also known as eight-player football) features an eight-on-eight game tailored to help schools with smaller enrollments to continue to field football teams. It falls under the realm of “reduced-player football,” which has long roots in the nation and was born out of the Great Depression.

Nine-man football, which is popular in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota along with six-man football, most popular in Texas, combines with eight-man football to produce more than 1,600 teams across the country. Of those teams, more than 1,100 elect to play eight-man football. Reduced-player football is continuing to grow across the country, including a revival in Wisconsin, where according to the WIAA, 72 eight-player and six six-player teams once competed in the late 1950s.

Still, many questions have arisen regarding eight-man football’s place in Wisconsin and its subsequent future in our state. Why are there no playoffs and what is a Jamboree? Why are some schools not participating in the postseason after posting a winning record? What is the current state of eight-man football in Wisconsin?

There are currently 23 teams in Wisconsin and one from Illinois participating in WIAA sponsored eight-player football. The Great 8-North and Great 8-South Conferences each comprises of seven teams. The remaining 10 teams fall in the Lakeland Conference, consisting of teams in western Wisconsin. These teams battle it out with their conference foes along with non-conference opponents to form their nine-game schedules.

The current eight-man postseason differs from its 11-man counterpart with its postseason format, known as the “Jamboree.” Best compared to college bowl games; teams square off against like-ranked opponents based on seeding. Teams play one final game, with no advancement or elimination, in hopes of winning their “bowl game.”

The WIAA divides the participating teams geographically into two regions, North and South, regardless of conference affiliation. The top four teams in each region are invited to the Jamboree and will play a matched opponent. Sevastopol was placed in the South while Gibraltar was placed in the North. Despite Gibraltar’s 7-2 finish, the WIAA currently allows only teams with a three-year average enrollment of under 200 to participate in postseason play.

The current state of eight-man football is promising as more teams look to join the ranks in 2016. The WIAA has stated that when 30 teams are formed, it will sponsor a 16-team playoff. Until then, eight-man programs will continue to take to the gridiron and showcase their squads, made up of talented athletes that are being noticed by collegiate programs. In fact, two Wisconsin eight-man players have signed to play with Division I college football programs, with several more drawing interest from Division III schools.

Michigan has followed a similar path in growing eight-man football, which now boasts 44 teams in the state. With their installment of a playoff system in 2012, the number of teams joining the eight-man ranks increased significantly from the low 20s three years ago to the 44 currently. The general consensus among eight-man programs in Wisconsin is to follow the road that Michigan took to grow this sport through the development of a playoff system.

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