For some reason after the 1975 football season the University Interscholastic League in the state of Texas stopped 8-man competition in football. I’m sure it was not a decision that was made single handedly by the UIL since most every, if not all; decisions are placed before a committee of superintendents from member schools. And I’m sure that there must have been a lack of interest or a lack of schools interested in continuing football at that level. Whatever the reason, it was a sad day.
As I have stated before in my blogs, I grew up in a very small community, just below the caprock in Texas, called Roaring Springs. Somewhere in the late 50’s the school decided to begin 8-man football instead of the 6-man game that had been played since as far back as I could remember. I never knew why, I just remember that most of the community and especially the players were pretty excited.
At that time our enrollment in high school was probably around fifty students. Yes, we were small! With the coming of each football season in late summer there would be around twenty boys report for two-a-day workouts before school convened. I know that doesn’t seem like many if you are not from rural Texas, but 20 boys in a high school totaling 50 students is pretty good participation.
I never remember our school having a junior varsity or “B” team as they were called in those days. In 6-man football that would have been just over three teams and for some of the boys it would mean very little playing time. It just wasn’t worth it and for so many of the kids who lived on farms back in those days, their Dads like mine felt like it was a waste of time if their son wasn’t contributing other than practice time. Now let me assure you that lack of playing time was rarely if ever blamed on the coach in those days: it simply meant that the boy was not good enough and that his time would be better spent milking cows, slopping hogs, or digging post holes.
I feel like this may have had something to do with the reasoning for abandoning the 6-man game for 8-man. It just gave more kids the opportunity to play and improve as the season progressed. I was glad that decision was made because my playing days as a sixth grader began in the fall of 61’.
In Texas in this era of football, I see schools year after year that make a decision to leave the 11-man game for 6-man. It becomes not only a tough choice for the community and the school board because in most every case they are breaking tradition and it also is a signal that their school along with their community is slowly dwindling away. It is also a gut-wrenching decision because the make-up of the game and the rules that govern it are pretty far apart.
I believe that 8-man is the game that would benefit the kids the most for those schools with an enrollment of over 60 students. I believe that they should have a choice as to whether they choose to play 6-man or 8-man.
The basic difference in the 8-man and 11-man game is the size of the field. In 8-man the field was 80 yards and not quite as wide. It may very well have had the same dimensions as the 6-man field. I’m just not sure. In 8-man the distance needed to earn a first down is 10 yards whereas in 6-man it is 15.
In 6-man football, the rules, especially those that govern the quarterback play, are quite different. I will not even try to get into the rules part of the game because I would just sound real silly trying to explain something that I’m not all that familiar with. With fewer players on the field the game is really wide open. This is evident by the score and the fact that there is a mercy or 45 point rule in that game. I really don’t think that would be a bad idea in any classification.
In the one-back, run and shoot/wide open offenses that we see dominating the 11-man games in this day and age, it sometimes literally becomes an 8-man game in the middle of the field especially if they have the wide receivers split from sideline to sideline. With two split receivers and a back out of the backfield split wide with them there are eight men left to man the running game. It looks a lot like the formation that I used to line-up in during my high school days.
In my first year of coaching in 1971 at Aspermont High School, we had some young kids that needed playing time and really didn’t need to be playing varsity football. We saw in the paper that a little town called Goree, who was an 8-man powerhouse in those days, needed a junior varsity game. Our head coach, knowing that I had played the game, assigned me to put a team together. We had about three games with Goree’s junior varsity. The kids noticed very little difference.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not degrading the 6-man game or wishing for its demise. Six man football, and especially in Central Texas, is alive and well and I love the passion that those schools that choose to play the game have for all that it brings. If you don’t believe what I am saying, just go to a 6-man playoff game at some point. Let me assure you that unless you get there early you had better pack your hiking boots because you will park some distance from the stadium. And then be ready to stand and not sit and watch the game. The bleachers will be full!
I will also say that no matter how many players are on the field it really is still about who tackles, blocks, passes, catches, and kicks the ball the best as to who wins. There have been some really good college ball players come out of those 6 and 8-man schools. The most notable name in Texas high school lore is one Jack Pardee of Texas A&M and Washington Redskin fame. He hailed from 6-man Christoval which now plays 11-man ball. Two of my high school teammates signed at West Texas State University and one named Don Tardy started three years in the secondary for the Buffaloes.
The bottom line is that I love football and I love for as many kids as possible to be able to play not just in workout but in games as well. My argument for reinstating 8-man would be to give more kids that opportunity plus it would allow those schools with declining enrollment as is the case of many west Texas towns, the opportunity to transition from 11-man into a game with many of the same similarities. If the enrollment continued to decline and the transition needed to be made into 6-man then the change would not be quite as drastic as it is now.
I am just a guy with an opinion that thoroughly enjoyed playing football and as I said earlier was glad that I could play on a team with a few more available spots for which to compete. Otherwise, I can assure you that my Daddy had plenty more chores awaiting on that cotton farm that would not been nearly as fun as playing football.
No matter what, Texas high school football always has been and always will be “king”.