Oct 4, 2022 - Sports

The rise of alternative football

Illustration of different colored footballs

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

11-player tackle football is unlikely to cede its spot as the sport's most popular format anytime soon, but a bevy of other options are mounting a challenge at the youth level.

State of play: Participation in 11-player boys football during the 2021-22 school year declined by 3.2% compared to 2019, per the National Federation of State High School Associations.

  • At the same time, participation in 6-, 8- and 9-player football all increased among boys (12%) and girls (39%), as over 500 schools stopped offering 11-player and over 200 added the smaller versions.
  • Flag football also exploded by 40% among girls, thanks to an aggressive push by the NFL to grow that version of the game.

Plus: There's also 7-on-7 football, which has been on the rise for years among elite high school players.

  • The all-passing, non-contact sport is quickly becoming football's version of AAU basketball (offseason all-star teams, college recruiters in attendance, etc).
  • This summer, digital media company Overtime launched a 7-on-7 league in partnership with Cam Newton.

The bottom line: Football is America's sport, and it comes in all shapes and sizes.

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