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USA Football examining modified program with 6-9 players per team

Gary Brown, a 1989 graduate of Brentwood High

Gary Brown, a 1989 graduate of Brentwood High School who played as an offensive lineman on the Super Bowl-winning 1996 Green Bay Packers, shows stance technique to Alex Tomalski, 9, of New Hyde Park during the Long Island Youth Football Player Academy at Cedar Creek Park in Seaford on Monday, July 11, 2016. Credit: James Escher

Long Island youngsters and teens may soon have the option of playing in a modified football program that would put six to nine players on the field for each team instead of the traditional 11.

USA Football, the official youth development partner of the National Football League, introduced the concept at its national convention in Orlando last weekend and the head of the Suffolk PAL came away with positive thoughts.

The program, in its developmental stages, according to Scott Hallenbeck, executive director of USA Football, offers rule modifications that calls for fewer players on a smaller field, the elimination of punts and kickoffs and having players starting in a crouched position.

“I’m still digesting some of the new ideas and what they want us to implement” said Anthony Williams, president of Suffolk County’s Police Athletic League youth football, which provides leagues for ages 5-18. “Our executive board is going to discuss these new guidelines . . . and look to add an eight-man modified program to our existing PAL 11-man program. And we’re excited to kick off our new flag football program this fall.”

The Suffolk PAL football program has seen a steady decline in participation the past five years. According to Rich Platia, director of PAL football officials, the league was at an all-time high of 320 registered teams for youth tackle football in 2011. Those numbers have fallen to the 221 teams registered last year.

“We’ve had districts closing or combining schools and there just aren’t as many kids to sign up,” Williams said. “We’ve seen a steady decline in our numbers. And we’re addressing the factors that impact our enrollment. We want to make the game safer because of the growing concerns on safety. And we want our participants to enjoy the game of football so if that means giving them options to stay active and play then that’s what we’ll do.”

Hallenbeck said USA Football wants input from Williams and his counterparts across the country.

“We’re still in the early stages of the program and we’re not mandating anything yet,” Hallenbeck said. “We need feedback on the modified game concept. We wanted to introduce the idea to the coaches. Nothing is formal yet but we’re gathering as much information as possible and then we’ll pilot the program for evaluation before we move forward on a national level.”

Williams emphasized that if the Suffolk PAL adopts the eight-man modified game, it would be in addition to, and not in place of traditional 11-man teams.

“This will be an alternative to the 11-man game, not a replacement,” he said. “I’m all for changes that impact in a positive manner. The 11-man football will not completely go away. With lesser player availability, having eight-man is an option for some communities that don’t have the numbers to field bigger teams.”

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