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This is a photo of the west goal post on the Ethan High School football field. Ethan’s field is one of 18 80-yard fields used in 9-man football games in South Dakota. (Sean Ryan/Republic)
This is a photo of the west goal post on the Ethan High School football field. Ethan’s field is one of 18 80-yard fields used in 9-man football games in South Dakota. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

17 percent of SD 9-man teams have 80-yard fields

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sports Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Rules and regulations are meant to level the playing field throughout all competition, yet one main component of high school football in South Dakota differs from one field to another.

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The National Federation of State High School Associations has recommended dimensions for 11-man and 9-man football fields. Yet in South Dakota, there are vague guidelines when it comes to the size of 9-man fields.

The NFHS suggests that all 11-man football fields are 53 1/2 yards wide and 100 yards long, with two 10-yard end zones. Recommended dimensions for 9-man fields are 40 yards wide and 80 yards long, with two 10-yard end zones.

South Dakota goes against the recommended dimensions for 9-man football as just 17 percent have 80-yard field. In a survey conducted by The Daily Republic, of the 103 9-man football fields in the state, 85 are 100-yard fields and 18 are 80-yard fields. All 11-man football fields in South Dakota are 53 1/2 by 100 yards.

In recent years, there have been several 9-man programs that have made the upgrade to a 100-yard field, but South Dakota High School Activities Association Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand said there hasn’t been any serious talk about requiring all 9-man fields to have the same dimensions.

“When that was put in by the national federation, South Dakota just decided to allow teams to continue to play on fields with different dimensions,” Krogstrand said. “Each situation is a little bit different and something that the football advisory committee has brought up in past years, but just because of the different concerns locally, we’ve allowed field variance from field to field.”

Mike Sebern, Burke/South Central athletic director and head football coach, said he doubts the state will ever mandate that all 9-man teams have 100-yard fields.

“It’s going to cost you money to fix and adjust and some of the small schools don’t have the funding to do it,” said Sebern, whose team plays on 100-yard fields in Burke and Bonesteel. “Personally, it doesn’t bother me having to play on different sized fields from week to week.”

In 9AA, five of 38 fields are 80-yard fields, while just two of 33 are 80 yards in Class 9A. The largest amount of 80-yard fields is in Class 9B as 11 of 32 fields are the small dimension.

“Most of our schools or a good number have converted and tried to get to the 100-yard field,” Krogstrand said.

An example is Gayville-Volin. It played on an 80-yard field for 80 years before switching to the larger field about six years ago, according to athletic director Tom Rice.

Limitations to switching

Viborg-Hurley plays in both locations, which have 80-yard fields, and Cougar head coach Brett Mellem said two things are holding his school back from making the switch to the larger field.

“The coast of changing is holding us back, along with space,” he said.

Sunshine Bible Academy is also a program that plays on an 80-yard field in Miller, and Athletic Director Greg Pedersen said the school made the switch to the smaller field three years ago.

“We used to play on a 100-yard field and we’re somewhat new to the 80-yard field,” he said. “Because of our gymnasium, we could only move our field enough for an 80-yard field. We ran into the road at the other end but it’s something we’d like to figure out in the future to get back to the larger field.”

Difference in strategy

The difference in field size plays to the different strengths of 9-man teams. Several coaches feel the larger fields are better suited for quick, speed-oriented teams, while the defense has the advantage on smaller fields.

“It’s a lot different,” said Canistota head coach James Strang, whose program used a 100-yard field for the first time this year. “The game of 9-man is more open on a 100 than an 80 and speed is a greater factor. If you have a kid that can run the edge, they can do a lot of nice things for you.

“Defensively, it’s difficult to defend. There is more distance to cover.”

Howard head coach Pat Ruml, whose team played on an 80-yard field this season in Marion, said it was an adjustment for his players, who have never competed on the smaller gridiron.

“It was their first experience,” he said. “Everybody thinks on an 80-yard you’re going to score more but the width is so narrow. If you run to the outside, you’re out of bounds.”

Krogstrand said the dimension of the field plays as much of a factor as anything else.

“I think it goes back to a coach’s style of offense or defense,” he said.

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Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.
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