The second Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) eight-player football State championship final will be this Saturday, Nov. 16, with Luck facing Wausau Newman Catholic at Dorais Field in Chippewa Falls at 1 p.m. 

It’s an important option for high school football in Wisconsin, as more and more high schools are going to eight-man football, including Three Lakes-Phelps.

The WIAA introduced a reduced-player football option for the first time in 1937 with a six-player opportunity intended to serve small schools. An eight-player option was introduced a few years later, and prior to 1941, there were 90 schools playing either six- or eight-player football. World War II had an impact as the number of reduced-player teams declined to 70. In 1950, there were 50 six-player teams and 26 eight-player squads. By 1956, the eight-player game had all but replaced the six-player option as 71 programs were playing eight-player to only six schools sponsoring the six-player option. 

By 1969, almost every football program was 11-player with the number of teams playing eight-player dwindling to six. In 2012, the WIAA reinstated reduced-player football with 16 teams optioning for the eight-player format that season. For six seasons, the top four teams in two separate regions were afforded an opportunity to match up and play in a four-game jamboree at the end of the season.

Sevastopol won the first eight-player football State Championship game with a 38-30 victory over Luck played in Stanley-Boyd.

There are 42 programs sponsoring eight-player football in 2019. There are several schools participating in the eight-player program that were ineligible for the post-season tournament because their three-year average enrollment exceeds 200, which is the threshold to be eligible for the eight-player tournament.

Last year’s runner-up Luck is back in the title game for the second year. Prior to transitioning to the eight-player option, the Cardinals qualified for the 11-player playoffs 14 times in either Division 6 or Division 7 with an 8-14 playoff record. 

Newman Catholic qualified for the eight-player playoffs for the second straight season. Last year, they fell in Level 2 of the playoffs to eventual champion Sevastopol. 

In addition to only eight players on the field for each side, the game differs slightly from the 11-player format both in the field configurations and playing rules. The eight-player field is 40 feet (13.3 yards) and the distance between the hash marks are narrower than the 11-player field. The playing rules differ from 11-player in that there must be at least five players on the offensive line of scrimmage at the snap. Each player that is at the end of the line of scrimmage and each of the three players behind the line of scrimmage are eligible and may have any legal jersey number.

The great thing about relatively new eight-man football format is that it gives small schools that want to maintain a football program an opportunity to win a State Championship.