AUGUSTA — High school football in Maine could take on a significant new look this fall.

On Tuesday, a Maine Principals’ Association panel discussed creating two divisions for eight-man football – a version of the sport played in other states but never before sponsored by the MPA – after 20 schools expressed at least some interest in switching from traditional 11-man football.

Yarmouth, Old Orchard Beach and Sacopee Valley are among the schools that want to play eight-man football. Others – including Freeport and Gray-New Gloucester – indicated they would consider eight-man, depending on opponents. Schools must let the MPA know before Jan. 25 which form of football they intend to play next fall.

The MPA’s Football Committee announced a proposal Tuesday that places all 20 schools in one of two eight-man football divisions, based on enrollment size.

But not everyone is on board. Athletic directors at some of those schools said later in the day they prefer to continue playing 11-man football.

“I was surprised we were automatically put in eight-man football,” Freeport Athletic Director Craig Sickels said.

Eight-man football is seen as an alternative for programs struggling to attract enough players to field an 11-man team. Amid growing safety concerns, participation in football is down in Maine. According to annual surveys from the National Federation of State High School Associations, participation in football decreased 16.9 percent in the state from 2008-2017.

The Football Committee surveyed schools across the state after its November meeting to gauge interest in eight-man football.

Some schools – including Boothbay, Ellsworth, Old Orchard Beach and Yarmouth – enthusiastically embraced the idea. Others were more cautious in their endorsement. Houlton, which played in Class D, and Presque Isle, which has fielded an eight-man club team, expressed interest but cited travel as a possible factor in their decisions.

The committee will meet again on Jan. 31 to finalize it football classification proposal, which will go to the MPA classification committee on Feb. 11. A final vote by the entire MPA membership will take place in April.

In the coming week there are likely to be several changes to the proposed eight-man divisions.

Cape Elizabeth was among the schools placed in the large-school (greater than 350 students) eight-man division. Cape Elizabeth was 31-12 with two regional final and one state final appearance the past four seasons.

Cape is “fully intending to play 11-man” football, said Jeff Thoreck, the school’s athletic director. “Going to eight-man is something we haven’t had to discuss. Our numbers are strong.”

Mt. Ararat, with 709 students, is the largest school placed in the eight-man ranks.

“No decision has been made here at MTA regarding eight-man or 11-man,” Mt. Ararat Athletic Director Geoff Godo said in a text message. “We said we would consider both options based upon our participation numbers. … This is a proposal and needs to be reviewed by the school, which we will do.”

Greely, which had a 22-player roster last season, stated in the survey that eight-man is a likely option but is considering a co-operative arrangement to play 11-man.

If there are enough schools to field two divisions of eight-man football, the remaining schools would play 11-man football in three classes based on enrollment. Maine last used a three-class system from 1987-2012. The past two falls, Maine has had four enrollment classes in football, plus a Class E for schools struggling to maintain roster sizes.

Under the new proposal, Class A would include schools with enrollments of 760 or more students. Class B would include schools with 505 to 759 students, and Class C would be enrollments of 504 and fewer.

“What I’m most disappointed about with the proposal is going back to three classes,” Sickels said. “I hope four classes (for 11-man) and eight-man are not off the table. I really do think we’re going backward. You take the lower end of enrollment from any one of those three classes to the upper end and there’s a big divide there.”

Seventeen states offered eight-man football in 2016, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Eight-man football is played without two interior linemen and one back found in traditional football. Fields are typically 120 feet wide instead of 160 feet, while the length can remain 100 yards or be reduced to 80. It is common to reduce the width and maintain the 100-yard distance.

Steve Craig can be contacted at 791-6413 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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