NCL II moving toward eight-man football

After weeks of speculation, it is now official. Five of seven NCL II teams will be playing nine-man football in 2010. Next up, the Coastal Mountain Conference could realign into three divisions in 2011 as those five move to eight-man ball. That issue will come before the North Coast Section.

Faced with low enrollment and understocked rosters, Point Arena, Anderson Valley, Laytonville, Round Valley and Potter Valley voted Thursday to opt for nine-man football in 2010. Tomales and Calistoga will continue to line up 11 players when they face one another or non-league teams, but will reduce to nine when taking on a smaller NCL II foe.

In 2011, the league will split into NCL I, NCL II and NCL III. One of the divisions will include the five shorthanded schools, which will then shift to eight-man ball. Another will include Tomales, Calistoga, Upper Lake and, it looks like, St. Vincent. NCL I will mostly stay the same.

“A lot of schools here just don’t have the bodies,” Point Arena athletic director Leonard Bechtol said. “It’s a numbers game.”

NCL II schools have played nine-man football from time to time. But it has usually been a last-minute adaptation prompted by a few players becoming ill, getting suspended or even taking vacation. That makes it hard on coaches to game-plan. Even worse, teams have had to forfeit games – Anderson Valley forfeited three last year, for example, including an NCS playoff game – when they were unable to suit up enough players.

Shifting to nine-man football merely entails dropping the offensive tackles and edge rushers. Eight-man is more complicated. The field has different dimensions, and the goal posts are placed differently. Still, the North Coast Section advised its smaller constituents to at least consider eight-man ball.

“We’re not discouraging nine-person, but there are a limited number of opponents playing nine-person,” NCS Commissioner of Athletics Gil Lemmon said. “We leave it up to the schools.”

Still to be hashed out is the issue of championship play. The NCS currently seeds only 11-man teams in its divisional playoff system. But Lemmon said the section might end up creating a very-small-school division. It’s also possible NCL III teams would go against inland schools in the playoffs.

“It just depends on how many schools there are,” Lemmon said.

— Phil Barber