Six-man football is a variant of American football that is played with six players per team, instead of 11.
Six-man football was developed in 1934 by Chester (Nebraska) High School Coach Stephen Epler as an alternative means for small high schools to field a football team during the Great Depression. The first six-man game played in Texas was on September 29, 1936 between Sylvester High School and Dowell High School at the high school football field in Rotan, Texas. Sylvester won the game 14-0. In 1938, Prairie Lea High took on Martindale High School in a six-man football game played as a demonstration game to see if the Texas UIL would adopt it as a sanctioned sport, which they did, and by spring of that year about 55 schools were playing the game. This number had doubled by 1939 and at one point in the 1960s there were more than 160 six-man teams in Texas. On October 5, 1940, Windham High School from Windham, Ohio defeated Stamford Collegiate of Niagara Falls, Ontario, 39-1 in the first international six-man football game. Jack Pardee, who played in the 1950s at Christoval High School in Texas is a six-man player who played and coached in the NFL. Chicago Bear Ed Sprinkle, who played six-man football at Tuscola High School in 1939, is another former Texas high school six-man player who played in the NFL.
Six-man is a fast-moving game played on an 80-yard (73-m) long by 40-yard wide (37-m) field (instead of the normal 100-yd (91-m) by 531⁄3-yd (48.8-m) field used in 11-man football). Furthermore, the game specifies a 15-yard distance (14-m) from the line of scrimmage to gain a first down, instead of the normal 10 yards (9 m).
All six players are eligible to be receivers. On offense, three linemen are required on the line of scrimmage at the start of the play. The person to whom the ball is snapped cannot run the ball past the line of scrimmage; however, if the ball is tossed to another player, that player can run or throw the ball and the person to whom the ball was snapped is still an eligible receiver. All forward passes to the player who snapped the ball (center) must travel at least 1 yard (1 m) in flight.
Scoring is the same as in 11-man football, with the exceptions being on the point after touchdown attempt and the field goal. A point-after kick is worth two points, while a conversion made by running or passing the ball is worth one point; this is the opposite of 11-man football. In addition, a field goal is worth 4 points instead of 3. These rule changes were made because of the difficulty of successfully getting a kick off with so few blockers on the line compared to the number of defenders. In both University Interscholastic League and Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools competition, a 45-point "mercy rule" exists to prevent lopsided scoring deficits (no such rule exists in the 11-man game). The game is ended under this rule if a team is losing by 45 or more points at halftime or at any point after. The mercy rule is alluded to in the title of the David Morse film about six-man football, The Slaughter Rule.
Six-man football today
As of the 2012–2014 alignments from both UIL and TAPPS, the state of Texas has 195 six-man football teams (71 in UIL Division I, 67 in UIL Division II, and 57 in TAPPS); this does not count schools in other high school leagues, such as the Texas Christian Athletic League (TCAL), or schools playing "outlaw schedules" (schools whose enrollment is too large to play six-man football in a league-sanctioned district, but nevertheless continue to organize a six-man team as opposed to an 11-man team).
The state of Florida has 32 teams playing six-man football in the Florida Christian Association of Private and Parochial Schools. FCAPPS comprises small Christian or private schools and at least one home school cooperative. Teams in the conference are as far south as the keys of Florida to as far north as Jacksonville.
The state of Alabama has eight teams playing as part of the Christian Football Association (www.cfafootball.org) which is a sister organization to the Alabama Christian Education Athletic Association (ACEAA). This will be the third year that the CFA has sanctioned six-man tackle football in the state of Alabama.
The state of Colorado has 23 teams currently playing six-man football with the majority of teams being from small towns located in Eastern Colorado.
There are also two adult amateur football leagues: the San Antonio, Texas based Texas Sixman Football Association (TSFA), and the Southeastern Christian Association of Sixman Football (SCASF). The TSFA just finished their 10th season with 13 teams vying for their championship and the SCASF just completed their 5th season with 8 teams. There is also one semi-pro six-man football league in Central Florida.
The A-11 offense, the original version of which is now banned in almost all levels of football, could be seen as an adaptation of the six-man offense to 11-man rules, with its wide-open style and the appearance of every player being eligible.
Six-man football in books
In 2005, coach C.H. Underwood authored what is considered to be the definitive strategy and play book for the game, Six Man Football, published by Bright Sky Press. A player during the 1960s and coach of the first Texas State Six-Man Championship team in 1972, Underwood provides a thorough dissertation on the small-town sport from both analytical and historical perspectives.
Another Bright Sky Press book, published in 2003, Grit and Glory: Six-Man Football is a collection of photographs that capture the spirit of the game and its players. Grit and Glory exclusively showcases the work of art photographer Laura Wilson, mother of actors Owen, Luke, and Andrew Wilson.
The newest release on the topic of six-man football is titled Six: A Football Coach's Journey to a National Record. The book was authored by Marc Rasmussen and published by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press. It includes a detailed history of Stephen Epler, the inventor of the sport and follows the life of Willis "Bill" Welsh who led a team from little Claremont, South Dakota to a national record for consecutive wins between 1947 and 1953. More information available on the South Dakota State Historical Society Press webpage www.sdshspress.com.
Six-man football in the movies
The Slaughter Rule, released in 2002, used six-man football as played in Montana as the backdrop for an examination of the relationship between a fatherless renegade football player and his loner coach. The film contains a brief but adequate explanation of how the game of six-man football is played as well as footage of actual game sequences. The title refers to a rule in which a game is called in the second half if one team gains a 45-point advantage over the other. In Texas and other states, it is referred to as the mercy rule. When invoked, one team is said to have "45ed" the other.
Six Man, Texas, released in 2008, is a documentary film that explores six-man football as identity in the public high schools of the 160 small towns in Texas that play it.
The Seventh Man, released in 2003, documents two years in the lives of the Panther Creek Panthers, one of the storied programs in Texas six-man football. It features the narration of Val Kilmer.
- Harris, Colin (2008-04-02). "An all-world salute". Record-Courier (Ravenna, Ohio: Dix Communications). Retrieved 2008-05-01.
- Six-Man Football Network
- Texas Sixman Football Association
- Southeastern Christian Association of Sixman Football
- Bright Sky Press