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Is 8-man football in the offing?

WHEELING – A sign of the times. So it was when Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans announced Monday it was scrapping its football schedule for this coming season.

The reason? A lack of players. Only 13 players committed to play this coming fall for the Bishops.

Although the school is small in enrollment, it was never a punching bag on the gridiron. Rosecrans earned five post-season berths in the past decade.

Once the Rosecrans administration opted to pull the plug on its 2019 football season, it quickly shifted gears and opted to field an 8-man squad.

The one problem Rosecrans will encounter is putting together a schedule as 8-man football is sparse, at best, in this part of the state. It is more popular in the Toledo area, a three-hour drive from Zanersville.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association does not sanction 8-man football. However, it does have the OHSAA’s blessing.

“Sanctioning is a loosely-used term. We recognize 8-man football, which means it is covered by our rules, enabling it to be covered by our catastrophic insurance,” OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “We provide services to 8-man, but there is no membership and we do not sponsor a tournament. I don’t know for sure how many schools in Ohio have 8-man teams. My guess would be around 15. It is more prevalent in Michigan.

“Eight-man football gives schools an option to maintain football. Many schools come back with 11-man teams,” he added. “You can play 11-man football one week and then 8-man the next week, but you cannot be eligible for the post-season. Schools are not permitted to have both an 11-man program and an 8-man program.”

Rosecrans move to 8-man football may be a trend that finds its way into the OVAC, albeit still a few years down the road. The Ohio Valley is home to a declining population and a host of small high schools.

St. John Central’s football program went the way of the dinosaur some three seasons ago due a lack of grid candidates. The school subsequently closed permanently last month.

Several other local grid programs have had to tackle a numbers crunch year-in and year-out.

Beallsville started last season with 17 players, a number that dwindled when the physical rigors took their toll. Two years ago, the Blue Devils played a few snaps with just 10 players on the field due to a lack of players.

Brent Croasmun has worked wonders for years at Paden City, managing periously low numbers. He fielded 18 players at the start of the 2018 campaign, which was the most in many years. As the season wore on, the number of able-bodied players dropped dramatically.

Paden City and Beallsville are not alone when it comes to keeping a football program alive with low numbers. Fellow OVAC members Hundred and Conotton Valley commonly field teams with less than 20 players.

Morgantown Trinity is ushering in football this year. One school official told me the Warriors hope to have 20 players.

I have been recently told that the numbers are extremely low at several other schools, including Valley and Madonna. More disturbingly, Magnolia may field a team with its smallest roster in ages. That surprises me as the Blue Eagles have a splendid grid tradition and have a quality head coach in Doc Chapman.

There are 50 football-playing schools in the OVAC.

The Ohio Valley will always have ample schools to play 11-man football.

However, if the trend of declining numbers continues, an 8-man football league may prove a possibility for some 8-10 OVAC members.

LEGION BASEBALL

I TOUCHED upon the sad state of American Legion baseball in the Ohio Valley last week. My frustration has intensified since then.

Barnesville forfeited its way out of the Ohio district tournament. That was followed by Weirton and Moundsville both opting out of the West Virginia Area Tournament due to a lack of players.

Thus, Wheeling and New Martinsville were the only posts remaining in the tourney. No disrespect to Wheeling and New Martinsville, but only competing against one team for a state tournament berth is not a bad route to travel.

I don’t know what the source of the player shortage is. It may be the season is too long, stretching from early June to August. It may be when a post starts losing the players start to bolt.

Is travel ball pulling players away from legion teams? Or it could be just a lack of commitment from top to bottom.

I don’t have solutions. I do hope that come next summer that American Legion baseball takes on a much healthier and vibrant existence.

BUBBA’S BITS

THE OUTLAND Trophy is presented annually to the premier lineman in college football. The OVAC can lay claim to two performers on the Outland Trophy Watch List released this past week by the Football Writers Association of America. The WVU tandem of Colton McKivitz (Union Local) and Josh Sills (Meadowbrook) both were tabbed to that impressive list. Both will likely being plying their trade in the NFL next year.

CLOSE BUT no cigar. I predicted Tommy Fleetwood would win the British Open. He flirted with the title but finished second to Irishman Shane Lowry.

PENN STATE wide receiver Cameron Pica was recently named a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar. Student-athletes must maintain at least a 3.7 GPA to be considered for the award. The 6-2, 215-pound wide receiver was previously named All-Academic Big Ten. The former Hickory High (Hermitage, Pa.) star is the son of Bellaire natives, Rick & Jennifer (Destifanes) Pica. Rick was a standout wrestler at SJC while Jennifer was a cheerleader for the Fighting Irish.

WVU IS predicted eighth in the Big 12 Football media poll. I am not buying that lowly prognostication. I believe Neal Brown possesses coaching magic. While the Mountaineers may not challenge for the conference title this season, look for Brown to lead them to the upper tier of the Big 12, laying the foundation for much success in years to come.

SPEAKING OF predictions, Michigan was tabbed the pre-season choice to win the Big Ten. That will not happen as long as Ryan Day is in charge at Ohio State.

KUDOS GO out to the Wheeling Cardinals for winning the Ohio Valley Baseball League playoffs. The Cards took out defending champ Barton in four games.

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