New season brings changes to high school football landscape

Scott Swanson

High school football in Oregon has undergone some significant changes in the last year, courtesy of the Football Ad Hoc Committee established by the Oregon School Athletics Association Executive Board to address problems such as declining participation, competitive equity, scheduling and other issues.

Former Sweet Home football coach Rob Younger, now director of the Oregon Athletic Coaches Association, was a member of the committee and said he appreciated the fact that the committee was “real diverse,” comprised of 13 school and athletic administrators, football coaches and others.

“We had representation from all classifications,” he said. “I really felt good about input throughout the process.

“The whole idea was we wanted to look at positive and proactive ways to improve high school football in our state.”

The OSAA Executive Board agreed to a number of committee recommendations intended to even the playing field in football.

They include:

n Allowing teams that have four-year Colley winning percentages of 22 percent or lower, or have played 12 or fewer in-classification games in the past four years, to play down a classification for two years.

That rule has not directly impacted the Oregon West Conference, in which Sweet Home will compete starting this fall.

Current 4A teams that would play at the 3A level next season are Corbett, Hidden Valley, Madras and Siuslaw.

The ad hoc committee has not determined criteria for how a school that has played down would be moved back up.

All football teams are now grouped in special districts, though in the 4A division those are essentially the leagues other sports compete in. The top two teams in each special district will qualify for the state playoffs, with four others in the classification added via the play-in model.

“We want schools to have the best chance of success,” Younger said. “We completely redesigned where schools are placed in leagues, and we had teams drop down because of lack of success over numerous years.”

For the next two seasons, at least, the Oregon West League will not include Woodburn in football, at least for the next two years, because of a switcheroo that puts the Bulldogs, who are moving down from the 5A Division, in Special District 2 (Tri-Valley Conference) with Estacada, Gladstone, North Marion, Crook County and The Dalles – the latter two 5A schools that have been allowed to play down.

Molalla has chosen to play in the previously five-team Special District 1 (Cowapa League), opening a spot for Woodburn.

New Sweet Home Athletic Director Mark Looney (see story on page 18) said that arrangement delays a big problem for the seven schools in the Oregon West. For the next two years, the Oregon West football schools will be Cascade, Newport, Philomath, Sisters, Stayton and Sweet Home.

“A seven-team football season is nearly impossible to do because you have to embed byes into it,” Looney said.

“Our preseason would be wiped out. We’d have one pre-season game. Then we’d have a bye in the middle. Trying to pick up a team for a bye in the middle of the season is tough to do.”

Other changes in football this year include:

n Modifications to some sub-varsity rules, including the option of no kicking game or blitzing.

The ad hoc committee codified rules that allow for options on kickoffs and punts for sub-varsity teams.

“We had some schools that were modifying the kicking game at the JV level, and doing it amongst themselves,” OSAA assistant executive director Brad Garrett said.

“We had to get on top of that. We don’t mind our schools doing that, but let’s codify so everybody knows what’s available, and we’re playing under the same set of rules.”

In subvarsity contests, teams can mutually agree to modify the kicking rules before the coin flip. Those options include:

– The receiving team can start at first and 10 at its own 35 after its opponent scores.

– In the fourth quarter, if the kicking team is trailing, it can take the ball fourth and 10 at its own 40 instead of kicking.

– In the fourth quarter, the kicking team has the option of kicking or allow its opponent to start first and 10 at its own 35.

– On punts, the receiving team has the option to start 1st and 10 at the succeeding spot 35 yards from the line of scrimmage.

– Teams can mutually agree to not punt the ball during the game, or allow puts but prohibit rushing the punter (receiving team may not advance ball).

– Variations in game formats (one-, two-, three-quarter games) at sub-varsity levels to provide flexibility for schools that have trouble fielding junior varsity teams.

– Options for small schools that find it sometimes difficult to put a team together in football. Those with enrollments between 90 and 120 will be able to determine whether they want to compete at the eight-man or 11-man level.

Those with enrollments of 89 or less would have the option of playing in a new six-man classification, which would be a pilot program for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, with no state championship awarded during those two years.

Younger said the response to six-man football has been enthusiastic.

“We’ve never had six-man football before,” he said. “I’m really excited about that for smaller schools. adding that OSAA held a meeting in July in which coaches from other states that play the six-man format taught Oregon schools and officials about the game, which tends to result in even higher game scores than the eight-man variety.

“It’s basketball on grass,” Younger joked. “I would not want to be an official. You never stop running.”

He said he’s personally familiar with several schools that opted to play six-man this year – rather than not at all, including Alsea, Harper Charter and Prairie City, as well as Mitchell, Spray and Wheeler, which will combine to create a six-man team.

“We have a total of 16 school districts who are playing six-man football,” he said.

– Separate scheduling for sub-varsity play “in order to enable schools to better match teams competitively, with an emphasis on local geographic play.”

Younger said the committee is “ongoing” and will meet this fall to monitor and evaluate how its ideas are working out.

Some other issues it is working on include the rise of private coaching entities encroaching on the game across the country. The committee is looking into the possibility of a rule code that would prohibit high school coaches from being involved in private coaching of athletes from schools other than their own.

It is also discussing the decline of participation in football since the 2008-09 school year. Specifically, the committee will look at the structure of youth football around that state and the ability of those leagues to retain players and promote participation beyond the eighth grade.

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern, seeing how the year goes,” Younger said. “The next thing look at is youth football in our state. We want to create a continuum to have high school coaches more involved in youth programs.

“I’m excited. It’s an ongoing process.”