February 11, 2009

A-11 offense now has to play defense

Kurt Bryan, the football coach at Piedmont (Calif.) High School, has heard the wail of protests against his A-11 offense. Deceiving, skirting the rules, unsportsmanlike. It has been labeled gimmicky and it has its enemies.

Success on the Field
Piedmont (Calif.) High football was the pioneering school with the A-11. Check out the photo gallery of Piedmont in action.
That's why he can only imagine that the worst is in store for his and Steve Humphries' offense in the next week.

The A-11 offense, a super-sized spread with eligible receivers popping up all over the field, has been banned by some high school state associations. Bryan is worried the National Federation of State High School Associations is going to adopt rule changes for 2009 that will ruin the scheme in the states where it is used.

The football rules committee of the NHFS met Jan. 24-26 in Indianapolis and Bryan said the committee discussed proposals that would effectively take the fledgling A-11 off the chalkboard.

Brad Garrett, the assistant executive director of the Oregon Activities Association and vice chairman of the NFHS Rules Football Committee, said rules committee members cannot talk about proposed rule changes or how they voted.

The rules committee makes recommendations to the NFHS national governing board, which votes whether to accept recommendations, but the board typically passes what it is presented by the rules committee. The board is expected to release rule changes for 2009 in the next week.

One of the proposals the committee discussed, which would curtail the A-11, was to take away an exception to rule 7-2-5b that allows players with jersey numbers 1-49 and 80-99 to be down linemen, and eligible pass receivers, in a scrimmage kick formation.

The A-11 (A11Offense.com) creators used that exception to have all of their players wear numbers 1-49 or 80-99, numbers reserved for receivers, and said if the numbering is allowed for scrimmage kicks it should be allowed for all offensive plays. Referees working A-11 games, Bryan said, have not thrown flags for ineligible receivers and allowed the offense to proceed throughout the game.

Piedmont Football
In two seasons with the A-11 offense Piedmont football has become regular participants in the postseason.
Bryan and Humphries, who is Piedmont's director of football operations, said the National Federation might institute rules to block the use of the A-11 by member schools, but that is not going to make the offense go away.

"There is a demonstrative benefit of using the A-11 offense, and there is room in America for more than one style of football," Bryan said. "There is a loud, ugly minority out there that is against this offense.

"This is standing up for the little guy in football, the schools without the numbers of kids or the big linemen. There is a huge disconnect between the players on the ground, the kids that play in this offense and the National Federation."

Bryan said if the National Federation adopts rules curtailing the use of the A-11 among NFHS members, then there will be a movement to create a federation for schools that want to use the A-11.

"What is ridiculous is there already are A-11 teams playing non-A-11 teams without incident," Bryan said. "We are playing within the rules."

Bryan said as far as he knows the opponents of the A-11 offense have not been to a game to watch the offense and examine it closely.

In the A-11, players do not wear the traditional jersey numbers for linemen: they use 1-49, and 80 through 99, which is legal. This means that all 11 players on offense can be eligible for a pass.

In essence, the offense creates an island for 11 players, spreading the defense out, and looking for one-on-one matchups.

If a player gets set on the line, and another player lines up outside that player, the inside player is ineligible to catch a pass. What the A-11 can do is have offensive players wait until the final seconds of the play clock and then take positions on the line making it difficult for the defense to know, until the last moment, which receivers are eligible.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association declared the A-11 offense was an "unsporting act" and banned its members from using the offense.

Officials from state associations who say their members cannot use the offense said the A-11 uses a loophole in the rules to deceive opponents. That loophole could get closed in the next week.

Wide Open Play Calling
One of the keys to the success of the A-11 is the ability to make an infinite amount of plays. Check out the photo gallery of some of the plays run by Piedmont.
"The rule was written for a scrimmage kick exception, the number requirement, to aid in terms of long snappers and blocking situations," said Mark Dreibelbis, the supervisor of officials for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. "They are taking a rule book exception for a scrimmage kick and putting it [in] place every down of the game and that is not the intent of the rule and it is outside the spirit of the rule code and it is an attempt to deceive and attempts to deceive are unsporting acts."

Dr. Ralph Swearngin, the executive director of the Georgia High School Association, warned schools in Georgia during the 2008 season about using the A-11 because he said it broke National Federation rules.

On its Web site, the GHSA's warning said any player in a game in a scrimmage kick situation (punt, field goal, extra point) wearing jerseys 1-49 to 80-99 still "must assume an initial position on his line of scrimmage between the ends and he remains an ineligible forward-pass receiver during the down."

Bryan said it is not his intent to try and lead schools to break away from the National Federation. He has proposed a sub-federation for schools that want to play A-11 football.

"Allowing teams the right to use A-11 football if they want to is extremely viable," Bryan said. "And there are plenty of people who will be ready to help set that up so everybody wins."

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