Sullivan County Democrat
Callicoon, New York
October 1, 2013 Issue
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Further Review: Let’s play six...or eight

Column by Ken Cohen
September 6, 2013 — The high school football season begins this weekend and for most schools, the games bring anticipation, excitement, socialization and even revenue. Unfortunately, Fallsburg and Livingston Manor will not be privy to these positive benefits for its student bodies and communities. Because of low turnout, they were not able to field varsity football teams. Neither will Elmira Notre Dame, a perennial Section IV power which will forfeit its first game of the season because only 16 players were eligible.
Even some schools that are able to commit to a schedule are barely doing so. A couple of injuries, suspensions or defections and their seasons could end prematurely. There is no single reason why schools are scrambling to play varsity football. And it's not fair to prescribe this as something new. There have always been schools in this position. It just seems like it's coming in bunches the past two years.
Certainly declining enrollment statewide the last several years is impacting athletic participation. Quite simply, the pool of students is shrinking. Then there is the sluggish economy which is forcing many kids to work after school to help support their families or save for college. That gets top priority over sports or other extracurricular activities. Some say social media is doing its part to keep kids home and off the fields. The thinking goes that through Facebook, Twitter and other sites, they are meeting and befriending peers all over the country – they do not need to go out for a team to get their dose of socialization.
Probably all of these factors are dealing small schools a tough hand when it comes to playing varsity football. In 22 states, the solution has been to start six-or eight-man team leagues. Those who have played or coached this type of game love it. It's contested on a 40-yard wide by 80-yard long field and the game is wide open, fast-moving, high scoring and exciting.
Said one coach from Ohio: "There's a stigma that if it's not 11-man football it's not real football. But I played 6-man football and you'll never convince me that wasn't real football.
"If other states can do it, I feel some schools here (Ohio) would be doing their kids a favor by looking into something like that. Why they haven't implemented small-squad football, I don't know. To me, that seems like an option that can be considered."
So far, New York, which has many small, rural schools, has not instituted a six or eight-man league either. You shouldn't be surprised – this is New York, the only state in the country that still makes it students take regents exams!
For Livingston Manor this season and Roscoe last, they have salvaged something for their upperclassmen by joining forces with Downsville. The combination team works for small schools but not for the likes of Fallsburg because New York rules dictate that if one player from one school joins another school, that school's enrollment numbers must be added to the new school for classification purposes. So in Fallsburg's case, if they wanted to send players to Liberty, Monticello or Tri-Valley, it's likely those schools would decline because the added enrollment would place them in a higher class.
While combining teams is the only viable alternative available, it's certainly not the same as hosting games at your school on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons, energizing the community and generating revenue for the school and Main Street. Six-or eight man football would.
It's time the New York State Public High School Athletic Association accepted reality and tried to help small schools play football rather than encumber them. The solution to problems is not always cutting back or merging, but expanding and exploring.

Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” appears every Friday.

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