Adrian coach takes aim at state plan to eliminate 8-man football

Antelope coach Bill Wortman makes a point to a group of players during practice in 2019. (The Enterprise/FILE)

ADRIAN – A proposed new prep football classification being considered by the Oregon School Activities Association may change the decades-old tradition of the 8-man game at schools like Adrian.

The proposal emerged from a Dec. 20 meeting of the OSAA’s Football Ad Hoc Committee. The committee consists of 12 athletic directors, assistant athletic directors and coaches.

The committee’s proposal would have 6A, 5A, 4A and 3A teams continue to play 11-man football.

The remaining 2A and 1A schools would be sorted into three new groups. There would be two new 9-man football divisions while the third group would be the 6-man format.

Adrian would be in a 9-man, Division 2 that would have 26 teams, including Elgin, Imbler, Union and Powder Valley. 

Adrian football coach Bill Wortman is objecting to the change, saying the OSAA concept is misguided. He isn’t sold on the 9-man concept.

OSAA officials didn’t return a call Monday seeking comment.

Wortman knows his business. The Adrian coach guided his Antelope squad to state championship victories this year and in 2019. His Adrian teams have consistently been playoff contenders and while he shy’s away from words like “dynasty,” he is devoted to building a winning program for the Antelopes. Adrian is the only 8-man football squad in the county. Ontario, Nyssa and Vale all play 11-man football while Harper Charter plays a 6-man schedule.

For Wortman, the proposal would create an array of problems. Some are technical – such as adjustments to specific football positions – while others go deeper.

“We have been playing 8-man football for 60 years in Oregon. A lot of our school’s cultures are built around 8-man football,” said Wortman.

One technical problem, he said, is that under 8-man rules, jersey numbers do not determine which player is eligible to carry the ball.

“So, No. 75 can still catch a pass or No. 72 can line up as a running back,” said Wortman.

Under the 9-man format, said Wortman, eligible ball carriers and receivers must wear a specific number.

“You have to be No. 1 to No. 50 or No. 80 to No. 99,” said Wortman.

Under 9-man football rules, said Wortman, Adrian players with numbers between 60 and 70 are not eligible to carry the ball.

“So that eliminates using our guards and centers to touch the football,” said Wortman.

In a real sense, said Wortman, the 9-man rules deprive the Adrian offense from two prospective weapons on the field. Wortman said while the 9-man format adds a “skill player” such as a wide receiver it will not compensate for the loss of two prospective ball carriers.

Under the proposal, Wortman and his coaches would also be forced to junk decades of 8-man football techniques and retrain their athletes.

“That’s tough,” he said.

Another concern, said Wortman, is his unfamiliarity with the 9-man game.

“I always want to be the best coach for my players and I can’t find any reasonable 9-man clinics in the Pacific Northwest. There are zero,” said Wortman.

Wortman also said few other areas in the nation play the 9-man game.

“The only states that are currently playing 9-man are North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Wyoming,” he said.

Wortman said the new framework will also create scheduling problems.

Adrian would be unable to play Idaho teams such as Wilder or Notus in junior varsity or nonleague contests because they are 8-man grid squads.

“There are so many logistics issues to it,” he said.

 Wortman said the 9-man versus 8-man football discussion has “been a work in progress.”

He said there was an initial meeting on the idea in 2019.

He said he “and about 20 other, 8-man coaches voiced our opposition to it.”

“We thought we’d killed it,” he said.

Wortman said he also was frustrated because of a lack of due process regarding the issue at OSAA.

“The football ad hoc committee have only had two meetings this calendar year and the first meeting wasn’t available for public comments,” he said.

The Dec. 20 meeting, he said, was livestreamed but then the session was “shut off for no public view.”

“They go into their deliberations and no one has any idea what they are talking about,” he said.

Two days after the meeting, said Wortman, he said he received a notification from the OSAA regarding the proposed new football classifications.

The OSAA Executive Board will review the ad hoc committee’s suggestions before making a final decision.

The next executive board meeting, said Wortman, is scheduled for Feb. 2.

He said if the OSAA goes ahead and ratifies the new classifications, he may ask for a new 8-man league to be created with its own championship season and include “perennial 8-man schools.”

New tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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