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Pleasanton Preps: Could EBAL tackle football be supplanted by flag football?

Declining player numbers, rising costs bring gridiron game to tipping point
A look back at the Amador Valley-Foothill boys' tackle football game in 2022. Girls will now get in on the gridiron action this fall with the introduction of girls' flag football to the EBAL sports slate.

This week in my Tri-Valley Preps Playbook I profiled the new East Bay Athletic League girls' flag football league.

If you didn't see it, the Playbook is a subscription email that is free and gets sent to your inbox every Tuesday. You can sign up through the Pleasanton Weekly website.

I think girls' flag football is a great addition to the EBAL and will be an exciting popular expansion for the talent-rich EBAL. There are going to be a lot of soccer, basketball, softball and track/field athletes competing in flag football.

The league will take place on Tuesday nights with home sites rotating each week, with a pair of home sites hosting three games that night.

There will be one site each week that hosts only one game. Here is a look at opening night on Sept. 5.

Games are set for 5:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m, and 8 p.m. The one-game site each week has a 5 p.m. start.

For instance, opening night on Sept. 5, Livermore will be a host sight, with the schedule being Livermore vs. Foothill, Foothill vs. Dublin and Livermore vs. Dublin.

Monte Vista will host the following: Monte Vista vs. California, California vs. Granada, Monte Vista vs. Granada.

Finally, Amador Valley will be hosting San Ramon Valley.

The games are played on the football field with smaller dimensions. The game is two, 20-minute halves with a running clock until the last two minutes of each half.

There are good coaches across the board and expect to see the teams stocked with some exceptional athletes. This is a legitimate league.

While it is exciting to look at the league getting underway, it could also be a precursor to what might lie ahead for tackle football.

I know I will get some blowback for this as there are some schools in the EBAL that are still getting big numbers, but there are others that continue to slide.

Whether it is changing demographics or people's fear about the perceived dangerous nature of football, the player numbers are declining at a rate that is leaving some schools with no freshman teams and sparse JV and varsity units.

Look, there is no more fanatical football fan than me. My wife dreads September through January every year as she becomes one of many football widows during the season.

But while I live for the game, I am also a realistic person and have seen the writing on the wall for several years. Junior football numbers are down as well, which leaves a shrinking pool of potential high school players.

Guess what is not down -- junior flag football numbers. I feel confident that if boys' high school flag football was available, it would outdraw the tackle at some of the EBAL schools.

In many ways that would pain me, as most of the memorable moments I have been privy to covering over the years have come on the football field.

Friday Night Lights is as good as it gets and in some areas of the United States, it still thrives. It's a community event that rallies everyone together.

But at the same time, I would rather see a talent-laden, loaded flag game over 50-point blowouts with some kids that should not be on the field. With some of the EBAL schools, football is as close to life support as it has ever been.

Sure, the numbers are the biggest reason, but there is the cost of the sport, insurance costs, and as I mentioned in a column last year, a declining pool of qualified officials.

I see officials every year that should be officiating freshman games forced into the varsity crew to cover games.

The pool of officials is steadily declining thanks to overzealous fans that berate officials. It's ironic to see that in this age of alleged tolerance, fan behavior continues to get worse.

At the end of the day, I am hopeful that football stays relevant, but at the same time we cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand. Trust me when I say there are plenty of people out there that are this way and I know I will be hearing from some of them this week.

Do yourself a favor and get out to see some of the girls' games this year, and ponder if it would be worthwhile to think about taking that direction with the boys' game down the line.

Ask yourself this question -- would it be better for a school to have a good flag team or an undersized, underwhelming tackle team?

Editor's note: Dennis Miller is a contributing sports writer for the Pleasanton Weekly. To contact him about his Pleasanton Preps column, email

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