Who plays, why play nine-man football?
Thursday, August 07, 2014 10:57 AM
An out-of-state reader unfamiliar with nine-man football has inquired about this gridiron game played in Minnesota. The nine-man variety is played by schools too small to play the standard 11-man game.
Nine-man football has only five offensive players on the line of scrimmage — in a balanced line. There is a guard and an end on each side of the center. BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP FILE PHOTO BY JON SPELTZ
Over half (29) of the 50 states offer not only 11-man high school football but also the opportunity to play with fewer players — either nine-man, eight man or even six-man football. It is most common in sparsely populated areas of mostly mid-western and western states; only four of those 29 states are east of the Mississippi River.
There are only three states playing nine-man football — Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Eight-man football is by far more common, played in 23 states, including upper mid-western neighbors Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Eight states offer six-man football.
This fall of 2014, there will be 71 nine-man high school teams in Minnesota. And 13 of those teams represent more than one school. Some schools are so small that they can combine and still be below the 165-student enrollment cap (grades nine through 12) for the nine-man playoffs.
The nine-man game eliminates two linemen – the tackles on offense. There are four offensive backfield players and five on the line of scrimmage.
Rules vary somewhat from 11-man football and may be different from state to state. There are no uniform numbering restrictions that prevail in the 11-man game.
Nine-man football has been played on a shorter 80-yard field, but Minnesota uses the standard length of 100 yards (plus end zones). But the width of the nine-man field is only 40 yards instead of the standard 53.33 yards. It is very difficult to defend the wider field with only nine players.
One advantage for spectators is often being closer to the action in the middle of the field.
Because the number of players is reduced by more than the size of the field, it is commonly thought the nine-man game is more wide open and higher scoring than the 11-man variety. With fewer positions for big linemen, there is an emphasis on speed. But 11-man football stresses speed more than ever as well. And all football is a higher scoring game than it was years ago.
Strongly encouraged by the Minnesota State High School League, the four smallest schools in the southeast corner of Minnesota began to make the switch from 11-man football in 2003.