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But These Go to 11

I will be watching the team at MoneyLaw to see what they make of this story.  The high school football coaches at Piedmont High School in Piedmont, California are exploiting what some characterize as a “loophole” in the rules governing the sport.  Piedmont is a small school that plays larger schools.  It does what it needs to do to protect its players and to win some games, and last year it reinvented high school football.  The New York Times has the story today, covering Piedmont’s “A-11” offense, which is a sort of “Kobayashi Maru” solution to a seemingly unwinnable problem:

By placing one of the quarterbacks at least seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, and no one under center to receive the snap, the A-11 qualifies as a scrimmage kick formation — the alignments used for punts and extra points. Thus interior linemen are granted an exception from having to wear jersey numbers 50 through 79. (The exception was intended to allow a team’s deep snapper not to have to switch to a lineman’s jersey if he was a back or an end.) Any player wearing jersey numbers 1 through 49 and 80 through 99 is potentially eligible to receive a pass.

Piedmont’s basic A-11 formation calls for a center flanked by two guards, who are essentially tight ends. Two quarterbacks, or a quarterback and a running back, line up behind the center, with three receivers split to each side.

Under football rules, seven players must begin each play on the line of scrimmage and only five are permitted to run downfield to receive a pass — the two players at the end of the line and three situated behind the line. The difficult task for a team defending against the A-11 is to quickly and accurately figure out who those five eligible receivers are.

Prior to each Piedmont play, only the center initially goes to the line of scrimmage. The two “guards” and the split receivers each stand one and a half yards off the line. Then, just before the ball is snapped, Piedmont shifts into formation for the signaled play. With this simple movement, the possibilities for eligible receivers become dizzying.

For more on the A-11, see Scientific American’s review, this blog post by John Linde, and the official online home of the A-11 Offense.  Clever?  Absolutely.  Difficult to officiate?  Probably.  Inconsistent with the spirit of the game, as some of the sources quoted by the Times suggest?  Hard to say.  I don’t think so, but then I know little about this kind of football.

Not mentioned in the Times (or SciAm, or anywhere else that I could see in a brief surf through the coverage) is that Piedmont is not only a small school that plays larger schools with larger players, but it is an elite, largely white school.  Piedmont itself is Vatican City to the Rome of Oakland:  an island of wealth surrounded by a large, diverse and much poorer urban community. 

Does that matter at all?  I’m not sure that it does, except that Piedmont appears to relate to the high school football community as Bill Walsh once related to college football and later the NFL:  As someone who wanted to outthink you, because his teams couldn’t outhit you.  But the San Francisco 49ers never got consistently good under Walsh until they could hit as well as Walsh could think (see Rathman, Tom and Lott, Ronnie), and Stanford has finally given up the pretense that it could compete in Division I football with an elegant passing game and nothing more.

If the A-11 turns out to be anything more than a fad (and professional and college rules are far less accommodating than high school rules in that regard), the multi-sport and multi-position athlete may have a competitive future after all.  The MoneyLaw folks can draw their own conclusions.

1 thought on “But These Go to 11”

  1. Thanks for the heads-up, Mike. I noticed the story when it first appeared in the Times. I plan to write on the A-11 eventually. Right now I am living through an Evariste Galois phase of my life — too many ideas, too little time.


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