BALDWIN — It’s official, Baldwin football is joining the 8-player ranks.

Athletic director Shawn Williams confirmed last Thursday the school has officially joined 8-player football and will apply to the Midwest Central Michigan 8-player Football League for membership. 

That conference consists of Brethren, Manistee Catholic Central and Crossroads Charter Academy, who formerly were rivals of Baldwin in the West Michigan D League.

Other members of the league are Forest Area, Marion, Traverse City Christian and Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian.

Williams said Onekama, another previous West Michigan D League member, has decided to go 8-player football. It hasn’t been confirmed if Onekama will apply to the Midwest League.

“It’s a good move for us,” Williams said. “It will give us a chance to also play on the JVs.”

Baldwin hasn’t had enough numbers in past seasons to have a 11-player junior varsity team. Williams added league membership would make scheduling easier for games. It was tough, he said, for scheduling games as an independent in 11-man football. Finding neighboring schools to play wasn’t easy. Being in the Midwest league would dramatically reduce travel.

“Now we don’t have to travel cross state to play these bigger schools,” Williams said.

Currently, there are 52 8-man teams in Michigan, but Williams indicated another 14 have joined. There’s been speculation the Michigan High School Athletic Association could expand its four-week 16-team playoff field in 8-player football to five weeks, 32 teams.

“I don’t know if they do that with a point system or a wins system,” Williams said.

In recent seasons, the state has used a computer point system to award playoff spots in the 8-player football system. Teams in 11-man football that win six or more games on a nine-game schedule automatically get in.

“I’m excited, it gives our kids a good opportunity to compete,” Williams said.

Eight-player football means two less lineman and one less skilled athlete, Williams said. It’s still a 100-yard field but narrows to 40 yards wide.

Bob Watkins, a longtime Baldwin football coach, said he understood the merits of 8-player football, especially after last season when Baldwin struggled to 1-8 and played much larger schools.

He did note the Panthers had powerhouse teams in past seasons with 11-man football and expressed some concern a move was made after one off-year.

But also has coached middle school football, which is 8-player, and acknowledged most area Class D schools have gone to 8-player ball.

Watkins also pointed out that athletes like Brandon Childress and Andon Ware have gained attention from colleges and are now playing NCAA football with Childress at Central Michigan and Ware at Notre Dame College in Ohio.

He expressed concern whether or not a standout athlete playing 8-player football might have a tougher chance to get noticed by college coaches.