The landscape for high school football in Wyoming changed Tuesday with the official introduction of nine-man football.
The Wyoming High School Activities Association unanimously voted in favor of a proposal introducing nine-man football in the 2020 season during its Board of Directors meeting Tuesday afternoon.
School officials began talking about the possibility of nine-man or eight-man football last year as Wyoming high schools started canceling games or entire seasons as the number of players dwindled. Four Wyoming high schools canceled at least one game due to low numbers for the 2018 season. Two schools — Saratoga and Ten Sleep — canceled football seasons before they began.
The idea was introduced at the association’s September meeting before a first reading proposal was brought forth during the board of directors meeting in February. The proposal, as passed on Tuesday, cleared second readings with all four districts before its final discussion.
Nine-man football was previously played throughout Wyoming from 1990-94. Back then, however, it was the smallest classification in the state.
The decision sends ripples throughout the state’s high school football system. Exact lists of schools remain subject to change as their classifications are tied to the two-year enrollment cycle, but some schools insisted upon moving up to 2A in order to continue playing 11-man, while some felt more comfortable consistently fielding teams in the new nine-man football.
Class 2A would include 17 teams, with nine in the East Conference and eight in the West Conference. The list provided by the WHSAA could still change, pending enrollment numbers going into the 2020-2021 academic year. That list included Upton-Sundance, Pine Bluffs, Big Horn and Cokeville, which all opted to remain 11-man team programs upon a return survey (they all currently play in Class 1A/11-man).
Class 1A/9-man would include 13 teams, with a split of six teams in the East and seven in the West. Again, the exact teams listed could change upon revisited enrollment numbers, although Moorcroft opted to move down to nine-man football in its return survey. Also included in the list were Riverside, Lingle-Fort Laramie and St. Stephens, teams that opted to move up from six-man. Wyoming Indian, Saratoga and Rocky Mountain all would also fit in with nine-man after having to cancel at least one game of their 2018 season due to not having the numbers to field a team.
That leaves a group of 13 current Class 1A/6-man football teams to continue playing six-man. Currently, there are 16 teams playing six-man football in Wyoming, making it the largest classification in the state. That includes Ten Sleep, which did not play a varsity season last year due to low numbers. Not included is Rock River, which indefinitely suspended its football program due to low numbers. Rock River’s request for sanctioning its new cross country program was previously accepted by the WHSAA.
Technicalities about the addition of Class 1A/9-man were also discussed. While WHSAA commissioner Ron Laird said the governing body was recommended to the smaller 80-yard-by-40-yard field that is used for six-man football. However, the board elected to instead implement a standard 100-yard-by-53 1/3-yards. The board cited flexibility in that decision, saying that if programs later found their enrollments high enough to play in Class 2A then it would simply be easier. WHSAA associate commissioner Trevor Wilson, who oversaw the vast majority of nine-man football discussion over the past year, did say the field dimension issue could be revisited down the line if it becomes clear the new classification is a permanent move.