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Schools Should Eye 8-Man Football Teams

Section 6, the organization that oversees high school sports in Western New York, almost found itself in the midst of a ludicrous contradiction of its own making earlier this week.

The section’s Competition Committee had decided that Clymer/Sherman/Panama, which has won the last two Class D state championships, needed to move up to Class C because the merged program was too dominant in Class D. Similar logic has been used when moving the former combined team at Maple Grove-Chautauqua Lake and Franklinville-Ellicottville. At the same time, Section 6 had been toying with the idea returning football to league-based play regardless of a team’s classification, reasoning that having teams play a league schedule based on classification rather than location was leading to too much travel time and travel cost for some schools, like Jamestown, as well as a loss of consistent league rivalries and scheduling problems.

For Clymer/Sherman/Panama, a schedule based on league affiliation rather than its state federation alignment classification would have meant playing a schedule filled with Class D teams — the same teams Section 6 had decreed Clymer/Sherman/Panama was too good to play.

What sense would that have made?

As it turns out, Buffalo Public Schools football teams lobbied to continue playing their suburban counterparts rather than playing in their own league, and Section 6 decided on a one-year moratorium on the schedule realignment. That decision removes the Clymer/Sherman/Panama contradiction that Section 6 had created, but it doesn’t answer long-term questions about merged teams and the future of high school football in Western New York.

As was the case with Maple Grove-Chautauqua Lake, mandating Clymer/Sherman/Panama move up a division by invoking a dominance clause makes no sense. The team should play where its classification dictates it play, not arbitrarily move up to play against bigger schools so that the team can get its commeuppance for two years of success.

What if there were a way to reduce the need for merged teams? Let’s face it, most of the schools in Western New York aren’t growing. They’re shrinking. In smaller towns, merged teams are the rule, not the exception.

Rather than simply penalizing merged teams for being good, perhaps Section 6 and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association needs to move more quickly toward an 8-man football league for its smaller schools. Section 6 could create an 8-man league while the state could create a playoff format for 8-man football teams so that high school students who find themselves on 8-man football squads are playing for the same stakes as their 11-man counterparts.

Clymer/Sherman/Panama played games against Geneseo and Cleveland Hill this past season, with road games at Salamanca and Franklinville/Ellicottville. A properly-formed 8-man football league could reduce regular season travel while restoring old rivalries.

Maple Grove has already taken the 8-man plunge. Perhaps it’s time for more small schools — and Section 6 — to do the same.

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