By Justin Skiba
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s board of control voted to approve a recommendation for the eight-player football division to implement a tournament series beginning in 2018. This would replace the current Jamboree format, which has been used since 2012.
The recommendation came from the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association who received several requests from eight-player coaches and athletic directors to create a playoff system. Details on the location of the state finals is yet to be determined. The playoff system will be done on a two-year trial before being reevaluated for the future.
The current eight-player football Jamboree has been hosted at Stiehm Field, located in Schofield, Wis. It serves as the home field for the D.C. Everest Evergreens.
Upon the completion of the regular season, the WIAA divides the participating eight-player teams geographically into two regions, North and South, regardless of conference affiliation. The top four teams in each region, based on overall records, are invited to the Jamboree and will play a matched opponent. The WIAA currently allows only teams with a three-year average enrollment of under 200 to participate in the Jamboree.
The Jamboree consists of four games on a Saturday, two weeks following the end of the regular season. The games are seen as simply a tenth game, with no chances for advancement or elimination. There are no awards presented at the Jamboree.
Door County schools, the Sevastopol Pioneers and Gibraltar Vikings, have both sponsored eight-player football since 2013. The Pioneers qualified for the Jamboree after posting a 7-2 regular season record in 2015. The Vikings have qualified for the Jamboree in their first two years, but due to an increase in enrollment, they were ineligible last fall despite a 7-2 record.
There will be 26 teams in Wisconsin and Illinois (North Shore Country Day School) participating in the WIAA-sponsored eight-player football in 2016. Newcomers Mercer/Butternut and Wisconsin Heights will look to participate in their first year of eight-player football this fall.
The idea of playing for a state championship will entice smaller schools that have decreasing participation numbers in football to join the eight-player ranks. Schools who do not currently sponsor the sport of football will also see it as an incentive to bring reduced-player football to their schools. Heritage Christian, located in Brookfield, Wis., looks to have a team beginning in 2017. The Marinette and Oconto Conference has been expressing interest in working with the current Great 8 North Conference with select 11-player teams possibly making the switch to eight-player in the near future.
Wisconsin’s neighbors to the north and east, Michigan, have 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. Michigan has sponsored a state championship game each season featuring the top teams that advanced in the tournament. This contributed to the number of teams deciding to sponsor eight-player football in the state.
Although eight-player schools in Wisconsin will continue to participate in the Jamboree for the following two seasons, the playoffs will be here soon.
Schools Participating in Wisconsin’s Eight-Player Football in 2016
Great 8 North
Bowler/Gresham (Bowler); Gibraltar; N.E.W. Lutheran (Green Bay); Lena/St. Thomas Aquinas (Lena); Menominee Indian (Keshena); Oneida Nation; Sevastopol
Great 8 South
Abundant Life (Madison); Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah (Elkhart Lake); Maranatha Baptist (Watertown); North Shore Country Day (Winnetka, Ill.); Oakfield; Valley Christian (Oshkosh); Wayland Academy (Beaver Dam); Wisconsin Heights (Madison)
Birchwood; Bruce; Luck; Mellen; New Auburn; Northwood/Solon Springs (Minong); Prairie Farm; Siren; Winter
Mercer/Butternut (Mercer); Wisconsin School for the Deaf (Delavan)