Eight-Player Options

Put this in the category of “No good deed goes unpunished.”

In 2011, the MHSAA provided an additional playoff for Class D schools sponsoring 8-player football. This helped save football in some schools and helped return the game of football to other schools. But now that the number of 8-player programs has expanded from two dozen in 2011 to more than 60, there are complaints:

  • Some complaints come out of a sense of entitlement that all final games in both the 8-player and 11-player tournament deserve to be played at Ford Field.
  • Some complaints come from Class C schools whose enrollments are too large for the 8-player tournament. Class C schools which sponsor the 8-player game have no tournament at all in which to play, regardless of where the finals might be held.
  • Some complaints come from Class D schools which protest any suggestion that Class C schools – even the smallest – be allowed to play in the 8-player tournament.

There are now three scenarios emerging as the most likely future for 8-player football:

  • The original plan . . . A five-week, 32-team tournament for Class D schools only, with the finals at a site to be determined, but probably not Ford Field.
  • Alternative #1 . . . Reduce the 11-player tournament to seven divisions and make Division 8 the 8-player tournament with 32 Class D teams in a five-week tournament, ending at Ford Field.
  • Alternative #2 . . . Conduct the 8-player tournament in two divisions of 16 Class D teams, competing in a four-week playoff ending in a double-header at the Superior Dome on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

The pros and cons of these options are being widely discussed. Sometimes the discussions have a tone that is critical of the MHSAA, which comes from those who forget that it was the MHSAA itself which moved in 2011 to protect and promote football by adding the 8-player playoff tournament option for its smallest member schools. That Class D schools now feel entitled to the Ford Field opportunity and Class C schools want access to an 8-player tournament is not unexpected; but criticism of the MHSAA’s efforts is not deserved.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017 1:30 PM
I would prefer Alternative #2. For us small schools who are trying to hold onto football with enrollment under 100 students it has become very difficult for us to compete on the playing field with those schools playing 8-Man Football and have an enrollment of 150 and above. These schools are able to have a JV program to help prepare and teach their athletes while we are required to use all of our players to play at the Varsity Level creating an environment for some lessor experienced players to become disenchanted or getting injured. This would help level the playing field.

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About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 10,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 45 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), is in his second term on the board of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center for nine years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is chair of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation for 2018.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing.