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OUR VIEW: Six-man football? No thanks

Small-town high school football is changing in South Dakota.

A year from now, some teams will be altering their games to play six-man football. Earlier this month, the board that oversees the South Dakota High School Activities Association approved the change, which begins in the 2019 season.

In short, the state's smallest schools are eligible but are not required to partake. A current nine-man class will be replaced to make room for the six-man version.

And while there certainly is a uniqueness to this type of football, we're skeptical about it. Schools considering six-man football have some time to mull it over, and during this transition period, we hope those that decide to take it on have a good reason.

But the six-man class won't be a savior for small-town football.

Each school should have a goal to find a way to play 11-man football, and if that doesn't work, nine-man is the next-best option.

To having thriving football numbers, schools need to have strong feeder programs at the younger levels to keep tradition strong. And we're afraid that when fewer players get to see field time in six-man football, participation will decline at a faster rate.

When teams need to join forces to put a team together, we've seen some wonderful cooperatives form. Towns that were previously rivals are now playing together. What's worrisome is the thought that a cooperative could dismantle to allow a small town to play six-man by itself again. That's certainly not a good approach.

We also wonder exactly how many six-man teams there will be in South Dakota. Will this primarily be a West River league with a few eastern South Dakota teams? If that is the case, the travel for those teams will have to endure may not be worth the effort.

It's fair to recognize having a six-man team is good for school pride, but how far does that go? It's unrealistic to think a small rural town, likely one with declining population, will be able to keep a six-man team for the long-term.

No, the better approach is building a strong program through tradition, or finding a partnership and cooperative that makes sense.

Six-man football man seem alluring, but instead, we see a lot of problems.