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Football

IHSA votes to officially approve 8-man league’s playoffs

Another ‘hurdle going down’

Among the list of proposals approved by IHSA member schools is one to allow for a playoff in 8-man football.

Proposal 22 passed 490-73, with 135 schools voting no opinion. Proposal 22 will recognize the Illinois 8-man Football Association’s playoff as official until 8-man football is recognized as an IHSA sport.

The proposal revises bylaw 5.073, which limited football teams to nine regular-season games and specifically mentioned that the IHSA postseason and Chicago Prep Bowl are not counted toward that total. With the newly passed proposal, the I8FA playoff is added to that language.

“I think we were pretty certain that it would pass,” said Nate Albaugh, head coach at Judah Christian and secretary of the I8FA. “We’ve worked really hard to create an association to work closely with the IHSA, because we hope IHSA will take it over. We know the 8-man game is good for a lot of people and schools. Getting this approved is an affirmation that we’re doing the right thing.”

It was one of 11 proposals approved by member
schools, the IHSA announced on Tuesday. Among the other proposals are measures to implement a district system in 11-man football starting in 2021, allow divers to practice with independent teams if their school lacks diving facilities, lay the groundwork for the addition of girls wrestling, and move up the first practice day in boys soccer, girls tennis, cross country, girls swimming and volleyball by 2 days.

The I8FA began play with six teams this fall, and held a four-team playoff, with Milford-Cissna Park beating Alden-Hebron 66-12 in the title game in Monmouth. Albaugh previously coached 11-man football at Champaign Central, and saw no difference in the excitement level between those teams and his Judah Christian squad which fell to Alden-Hebron in the 8-man semifinal.

“The excitement was as real as anything I’ve been a part of,” he said. “I realized this was a great thing. They get to be a part of exciting football. It was just so cool to be a part of.”

Judah Christian’s enrollment goes between 130 and 150, and this fall they had 17 players out to be part of the school’s first football team.

Albaugh said that as his players walked down the hallways on Fridays at school, there was a buzz in the air.

“There wasn’t a soul in that place on a Friday afternoon that cared how many people were taking the field,” he said.

More are joining their ranks. Polo announced in January it would go to 8-man football for 2019. Another NUIC Upstate team, River Ridge, announced in September it would make the move as well.

Eight teams are committed to playing 8-man football with the I8FA for the 2019 season, with Illinois School for the Deaf in Jacksonville also playing 8-man football against deaf schools in other states. The Marcos and River Ridge will face off against Alden-Hebron, Rockford Christian Life, Judah Christian, Milford-Cissna Park, Lake Forest Academy and Cuba North Fulton.

More teams could be on the way, and the IHSA’s stamp of approval on the I8FA playoff could nudge others in that direction.

“At each individual school there might be one or two people resistant, so one hurdle after another going down helps our cause,” Albaugh said.

He feels 8-man football could be an alternative to co-ops, or not having a team for those schools who may not have the numbers to field an 11-man team.

Polo, with an enrollment of 160, had 16 players out for football this fall in the Marcos’ final season of 11-man football. Six of them are seniors.

Albaugh still feels that the future of 8-man football in Illinois is to be absorbed into the IHSA as its own classification, but for now, the I8FA will continue to hold its tournament and grow its ranks.

“All I can do is go off what is happening in other states, and I see no reason to feel football here would be any different,” he said.

State-sanctioned 8-man would not be out of the ordinary. Iowa has had an 8-man football tournament since 2000, with 65 schools taking the field in 8-man football this fall. In Missouri, the 8-man tournament debuted in 2010, and there are 23 teams vying for the 8-man state title. Wisconsin joined the ranks of states offering a playoff in 8-man football this fall.

Michigan began its 8-man state series in 2011, and it became so popular among small schools in the Upper Peninsula and the Thumb that the MHSAA now has two classes for 8-man football. Owen-Gage, a school playing 8-man football in the Thumb, has an enrollment of 57.

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