High school football’s numbers problem

A survey of 275 Minnesota high school football coaches earlier this year delivered, in unflinching starkness, what many of them had been seeing and worrying about on their sidelines:

Declining numbers: Nearly 57 percent indicated their program had seen participation fall in the past three years. The pattern cut fairly consistently across all seven classes, as well as in the metro area and outside the Twin Cities.

Severity varied: Most described it as a drop of 10 percent or less. Nearly 30 percent who responded characterized the decline as moderate (11 to 15 percent) or concerning (more than 15 percent).

The reasons: Coaches most often cited safety concerns (55 percent). Sports specialization was mentioned by 45 percent and changing school enrollment by 36 percent.

Not all hurting: About one in six coaches said their program numbers were growing, while about one in four reported no change. Those with growing programs traced it to youth football offerings in their communities, enrollment increases and their competitiveness (win/loss record, state tournament appearances).