February 13, 2009

High flying offense grounded

The A-11 offense, the super-sized spread that made it possible for 11 players to be eligible to receive a pass on every down, was virtually shut down Friday for those schools who play by the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

The A-11, which was created in Piedmont, Calif., in 2007, used an exception to a scrimmage kick rule that was introduced in 1982 to have all 11 players wear eligible jersey numbers 1-49 and 80-89. The A-11 offense had players jump into positions or shift into positions just before the snap, which made it difficult for the defense to adjust. Because every player had an eligible jersey number, they could line up in such a way to be a legal receiver.

The NFHS changed the rule and said that on first, second and third down, there must be four players on the line with numbers 50-79. The snapper may have a number 1-49 or 80-89, but he is ineligible.

In essence, there can only be potentially six eligible receivers per down instead of 11 under the A-11.

"It was unethical for them to use a loophole in the rules to run this offense," said Mike Webb, the supervisor of football officials for the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission who is on the NFHS football rules committee. "This takes away the deception."

West Virginia and North Carolina were among those states that deemed the offense "unsportsmanlike" and banned its use.

Kurt Bryan, the coach at Piedmont High School, and Steve Humphries, a Piedmont assistant, created the offense in 2007. They said they submitted the plan for the offense three years ago to the National Federation and the California Interscholastic Federation and weren't told their offense was illegal.

After hearing that the numbering exception rule was changed by the NFHS, Bryan said he will ask the NFHS to create a sub-federation for member schools that want to use the A-11.

"It is our first hope that the NFHS is able to change with the times and will be most willing to help create an A-11 football sub-federation within the framework of their existing organization," Bryan said in a statement. "If yes, then everybody wins, especially the schools like ours nationwide.

"Overwhelmingly, the small to mid-size football programs in America face many of the same challenges we do and must find ways to adapt. We never dreamed it would spread like this and that other schools in situations like ours would implement the offense as well."

Ralph Swearngin, the executive director of the Georgia High School Association, said he voted to change the rule on numbering exceptions, but it was not because he necessarily had an objection to the offense. He said the rule was not being used as intended. Swearngin, a former high school referee, said the rule allowing players to wear 1-49 and 80-89 on kickoffs and punts was put in so teams with small rosters could have more players available for kickoffs and punts.

"I felt the rule was being used in a way it was not intended," Swearngin said. "The question for me on the committee was, 'Do we have a rule that needs to be strengthened or tightened?' "

Swearngin said he had heard complaints from around the country about the offense, with players milling around beyond the line of scrimmage and not being set. He said the offense made it difficult for officials to determine which players were eligible receivers and which were ineligible.

Bryan said there is substantial support nationally for the offense. He said any schools that want to create their own federation and explore using the offense should contact him through the Web site A11Offense.com.

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