The Southwest Michigan Eight-Man Football League will expand from seven schools to 10, beginning with the 2020 season.
Bangor, Eau Claire and Marcellus have accepted invitations to join the league, which was formed in 2019. Martin, Bridgman, Wyoming Tri-unity Christian, Lawrence, Lake Michigan Catholic, New Buffalo and Michigan Lutheran were founding members.
Eau Claire, Bangor and Marcellus are all currently members of the Southwest 10 Conference. Eau Claire will join the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference next season.
"We looked at enrollment as the big factor," Lawrence athletic director and league representative Aaron Amthor said. "Which schools in the area matched our enrollments and which schools made sense in terms of travel? Bangor had a larger enrollment, but (athletic director Jens Mortensen) and I have been talking about this scenario for two years. Eau Claire and Marcellus matched enrollment for us. They were a perfect fit."
River Valley was also offered an invitation, but chose to decline, according to Amthor.
Bangor began the transition to eight-man this season by playing a schedule comprised of five eleven-man games and three eight-man games. The Vikings ended the season with a combined record of 1-7.
Marcellus finished the 2019 season with a 3-6 record. Eau Claire ended the season with an 0-9 record, its third winless season in five years. The Beavers were outscored 457-26.
"(The move) happened fairly quickly," Eau Claire coach Craig Fisher said. "It was the perfect storm. We looked at our numbers and how our seasons have been going recently. Our enrollment has been low. To be in a position to have viable junior varsity and varsity programs is great."
Fisher hopes the transition to eight-man will encourage players to remain in the football program.
"Our program has found itself in a cycle where our freshmen and sophomores are going up against juniors and seniors and aren't seeing success," "By the time they're juniors and seniors, they're out of the program. Our goal is to retain those freshmen and sophomores for four years. That way we're able to compete at a better level and build our program."
With Bangor, Eau Claire, and Marcellus in the fold, the league will play a closed schedule next season, a scenario Amthor is glad to be in.
"It makes things so much easier as far as travel is concerned," he said. "When (Lawrence) started playing eight-man in 2013, we were one of only two eight-man teams in Southwest Michigan. It is really nice having these teams together, now."
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