As rural America shrinks, so do football teams

If you want to see the decline of rural America, look no further than high school football.

As small towns continue to empty out, it’s becoming impossible for schools to continue football programs without significant changes to the sport.

In South Dakota, the state’s High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) may embrace six-man football, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports.

A confidential survey of athletic directors in the state could lead to a change in 2019.

Six states — Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming — have adopted six-man football, which isn’t really football at all, at least by traditional standards.

In Montana, for example, the field is 80 yards long, rather than 100. Every player can receive a pass. The quarterback can’t run the ball unless another player touches it first. It takes 15 yards — not 10 — to get a first down.

You don’t have to be big to play the sport, but you have to be fast.

“For South Dakota to move to six-man? That’d be awesome for us,” Marty, S.D., Indian High School activities director Galen Drapeau tells the Argus Leader. “I think we would excel in a six-man program. It’s more of a speed game than a power game.”

His nine-man football team hasn’t won a game in five years and his program forfeited its entire season after only seven players “tried out” for the team.

“The ones that were there at practice, I could just see it in their face that they didn’t want that,” Drapeau said. “But I was like, What can we do? I couldn’t even put a middle school in there with them. It was horrible this year.”

If things get any tougher in rural South Dakota, the football fans who are left might be spending Friday night watching a couple of eighth-graders play catch with each other.