If recent summers have been any sign, football formally has evolved into a year-round obsession at the prep level. Nestled snugly amid the fall football, recruiting and spring football seasons, we have seven-on-seven — a pass-oriented preoccupation until the real stuff commences in August.
Chances are, your alma mater participates. Plant High is competing in a national seven-on-seven tournament in Oregon. Two schools in Miami got into a nasty brawl in a game last weekend.
But what exactly is it? Some assume it's flag football (it isn't). Others think it's a Florida High School Athletic Association-sanctioned sport (wrong again). And no one seems to possess a cast-iron set of rules and regulations. Hence the reason we set out to get some answers on this booming — if not ambiguous — sport. Consider the following our succinct, summer guide to seven-on-seven.
First, the rules
Every local prep and college coach we spoke to concurred rules fluctuate by league and tournament. There are, however, some generally agreed-upon guidelines. Essentially, it's one-hand touch football. Most fields are 40 yards in length, with teams getting four downs to go 20 yards, and another four to score.
Offenses typically get six points for a touchdown, and one or two points for a conversion (depending on whether they try from the 5- or 10-yard line), while defenses get points for an interception (usually three). No rushing is allowed, but quarterbacks must pass within a predetermined time frame (usually three or four seconds) monitored by an official.
Where did it start?
We're not sure, but it seems to have begun out West and migrated eastward. USF passing-game coordinator Mike Canales, who organized the popular Sling & Shoot tournament on the Bulls' campus last weekend, said he was officiating seven-on-seven tournaments while a quarterback at Utah State in the early 1980s. According to a Nike Web site, the sport was originated in 1968 by ex-NFL assistant Mouse Davis, widely considered a pioneer of the run-and-shoot offense.
How big is it now?
Chamberlain assistant Brian Turner, who coordinates Hillsborough County's league, said four teams competed when the league began four years ago. That number grew to 16 last summer, and it features 12 this year. A Pasco County league consists of eight teams. Canales said the first Sling & Shoot, in summer 1998, had eight teams. Last weekend, 46 competed in two divisions, with a throng of observers convening for the title game between Plant and Palm Beach Atlantic.
"The field was circled," Canales said. "It was packed. And there were two- or three-deep rows of people watching the game."
Why don't all teams play?
Different reasons. Turner said the coverages and formations teams see in seven-on-seven play often aren't practical for fall.
"They're playing (defensive backs) at linebacker and running plays they never would run in a game," Turner said. "It's not realistic. It's realistic for Plant because they throw the ball all the time."
Hudson coach Mark Nash, whose team throws frequently, says he would rather get his players involved in camps. "Trying to do it around camps has proven to be a nightmare," he said.
Does the FHSAA govern seven-on-seven in any way?
Technically, no. It's not an FHSAA-sanctioned sport. But like other summer programs (AAU basketball, travel softball, etc.), eligibility or transfer issues can arise. According to FHSAA spokesperson Cristina Alvarez, if a kid who attended School A the previous academic year starts playing seven-on-seven for School B in the summer, then suddenly decides to transfer to School B, his eligibility could come into question per FHSAA bylaw 188.8.131.52.
How does seven-on-seven benefit linemen?
In two words, it doesn't.
For passing teams and defensive backs, it's a fine preparation tool, but we'll check back in when they start playing 11-on-11.