Half Empty or Half Full

After an absence of decades, eight-player football has been reintroduced to Michigan high schools during recent years. When enough schools sponsored the program, the MHSAA responded with a four-week playoff in 2011.  The number of schools sponsoring the sport grew in 2012, and more growth is expected for the 2013 season.

Like almost everything that occurs in life, what has benefited some schools is not seen by others to be in their own best interests.

Advocates of the eight-player game include those schools whose declining enrollments couldn’t support the eleven-player game.  Football has returned to some communities and has been saved from the brink of elimination in others.

However, as two and soon three dozen Class D schools opt for the eight-player game, the remaining Class D schools that sponsor football find themselves in disrupted leagues and forced to travel further to complete eleven-player football schedules; and they must compete against larger teams in Division 8 of the eleven-player MHSAA Football Playoffs.

In fact, the growth of the eight-player game among our smallest schools has resulted in more Class D schools qualifying for the MHSAA Football Playoffs than ever before.  In 2012, an all-time high 44.0 percent of Class D schools that sponsor football qualified for either the single division eight-player tournament or Division 8 of the eleven-player tournament.  This compares to 42.2 percent of Class C schools, 44.9 percent of Class B schools and 41.6 percent of Class A schools that sponsor football and qualified for the 2012 playoffs.

Some see the eight-player game as the savior of the football experience in Class D schools.  Others see it differently.


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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 44 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 seven years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is vice chair and secretary of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation.

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.