PIERRE-Six-man football in South Dakota has hit a major speed bump.
On Tuesday, the executive staff of the South Dakota High School Activities Association announced it will recommend postponing the addition of six-man football for the 2019 and 2020 seasons at next week's regularly scheduled Board of Directors meeting in Pierre.
"When surveyed in 2017, over 40 schools from our membership indicated an interest in the addition of six-man football beginning with the 2019 season," SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director John Krogstrand said in a release. "Over 20 school districts had serious conversations about going the six-man route for this coming fall. Despite that, only a handful have indicated a serious commitment to participating in six-man for the upcoming two seasons. We feel it is best to suspend the addition of a six-man football class for the time being, and continue with our current classification structure and regulations."
The SDHSAA Board of Directors voted in June 2018 to begin offering six-man football as a sanctioned sport this coming fall. Prior to the vote, a survey was conducted to gauge interest among schools that were eligible to play six-man football.
Avon Superintendent and Activities Director Tom Culver, who is the school's longtime football coach, felt the SDHSAA needed a firmer commitment than just an interest survey.
"We were one of them that said we would be interested in exploring it more and hearing what's going on and seeing if there is interest," Culver said. "Because I think if a school-if they feel that's what they need to do-then they should be able to do that, but we had no intention of going six-man. We were fine with them exploring it, too."
Initially, 43 schools made some indication of an interest and Krogstrand said at least 20 discussed it further, but in the end, Krogstrand said "fewer than 10 were going to make a formal commitment to it, that it maybe just made more sense to go a different direction or at least for two years kind of pause and re-evaluate where we are at."
Krogstrand said the biggest factor for schools switching gears was an increase in participation numbers during the last fall, which is why he views this as a positive.
"We've got more kids playing football or more opportunities for kids playing football, which was the whole genesis for the start of this was being worried that schools weren't going to be able to field football teams," Krogstrand said.
In a September 2018 Daily Republic story examining local schools and six-man football, Mitchell-area schools Colome, Avon and Ethan stated they would not go the six-man route. On Tuesday, Ron Weber, who is the athletic director for the Tripp-Delmont/Armour co-op, said neither of the schools were planning on joining the six-man ranks, either. The Tripp-Delmont/Armour/Andes Central/Dakota Christian football co-op went 6-3 this past season.
"It really wasn't something that we wanted to steer toward that direction," Weber said. "We were pretty successful with our co-op with AC/DC and they didn't want to go six-man and we didn't want to go six-man. There really wasn't very much discussion at all with the schools that were involved in it as far as going that direction."
Weber feels six-man football should have been done 20 years ago prior to all the co-ops and school consolidations, but now almost everyone is content with their current affiliation.
"Nobody wants to break up their co-op and start something on their own with six-man football," Weber said. "I just don't think there's going to be a large enough group to do it to get successful schedule for teams in the local area."
The football co-ops have become the norm in nine-man and Class 11B football and Culver agreed most of them should stay in place moving forward.
"I think that would be hard to all of a sudden to break that up and go out on your own," Culver said. "Then when you turnaround here in four years and say this didn't work out as well as we thought, 'We would like to get back together.' That could kind of be an interesting conversation. So I think that's why some of these teams understandably weren't so willing to break up a co-op."
Schools eligible for six-man needed to have a male-only average daily membership (ADM) under 40 for grades 9-11. The six-man class would have essentially replaced Class 9B. Krogstrand said another talking point is the decrease in nine-man football team numbers and how it impacts the future of those three classes moving forward.
"I think we played 75 nine-man teams this last cycle and we're very close to the 64 level, which the board action from the mid-2000's talks about returning to two nine-man classes automatically if we get to 64 or fewer and we are very close to that threshold," Krogstrand said.
"It will depend on how some of these changes today maybe shakeout that number of teams. We are very close to that number."