Nine-man football may return to Wyoming by 2020, pending approval from the Wyoming High School Activities Association.
In all, 13 schools have indicated tentative interest in joining a new Class 1A nine-man classification that would replace the current Class 1A 11-man, WHSAA Associate Commissioner Trevor Wilson said in an interview with wyoming-football.com on Friday.
“It’s been overwhelmingly supported by our schools,” Wilson said.
If granted final approval, nine-man football would begin in 2020. Current 1A programs that want to continue to play 11-man would have to opt up to 2A, and current six-man programs would have the option to play nine-man instead.
Wilson said the biggest supporters of a change to nine-man have been from a variety of areas, but “especially the (programs) that have struggled already to field 11-man teams.”
Results from a WHSAA survey distributed in mid-November to current Class 2A and 1A programs showed that 17 schools were interested in playing 11-man football at the Class 2A level, 13 were interested in nine-man and 13 in six-man.
The proposal for nine-man football will see its first reading before the WHSAA Board of Directors on Feb. 5. The proposal was discussed at district meetings last week. If approved on first reading, the proposal will go back to districts before a second, final reading before the board on April 23.
The one negative Wilson said schools brought up at district meetings was about smaller 1A schools who wish to continue playing 11-man football, such as Cokeville and Pine Bluffs. Questions about the ability of teams with less depth to hold up against a 2A schedule week in and week out is “the only negative we see right now,” Wilson said.
For now, four current Class 1A programs (Big Horn, Cokeville, Pine Bluffs and Upton-Sundance) have indicated interest in moving to Class 2A to continue playing 11-man. Similarly, six-man schools Lingle, Riverside and St. Stephens have noted their interest in moving to nine-man. Riverside currently opts down to play six-man. Moorcroft is the only 2A school that has indicated its interest in moving from 11-man to nine-man.
Wilson said the classification and conference alignment is far from official and is dependent on where schools are classified in the upcoming reclassification cycle. Classifications for the 2020 and 2021 seasons will be set by enrollment numbers sent in to the state’s department of education in June and received by the WHSAA in late summer. Programs would continue to have the option to play up or down in classification, per WHSAA board approval; schools that opt down are ineligible for postseason play, though.
Wilson also said Rock River, which had played six-man football, will suspend varsity football for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. He also said Encampment will add six-man football at the sub-varsity level in 2019 and attempt to play a varsity schedule starting in 2020.
Wyoming hasn’t had organized nine-man football since 1994. That season, only six teams played in the nine-man classification. The WHSAA eliminated it after six years prior to the 1995 season.
The November WHSAA survey results showed the schools’ tentative choices for 2020. Schools can change their decisions prior to finalization of classifications and conferences during reclassification discussions this fall, and Wilson said the classification and conference assignments are far from final:
Class 2A: Big Horn, Big Piney, Buffalo, Burns, Cokeville, Glenrock, Greybull, Kemmerer, Lovell, Lyman, Mountain View, Newcastle, Pine Bluffs, Pinedale, Thermopolis, Upton-Sundance, Wheatland.
Class 1A nine-man: Lingle, Lusk, Moorcroft, Riverside, Rocky Mountain, St. Stephens, Saratoga, Shoshoni, Southeast, Tongue River, Wind River, Wright, Wyoming Indian.
Class 1A six-man: Burlington, Dubois, Encampment, Farson, Guernsey-Sunrise, Hanna, Hulett, Kaycee, Meeteetse, Midwest, NSI, Snake River, Ten Sleep.