Innovating Football With the A-11 Offense

I don’t watch much football at any level (NFL, college, high school) these days, but I heard a story on Saturday’s Weekend America program that I thought was interesting, more from an innovation point of view than anything.

The story was about a new type of offense dubbed A-11 by its creator, the Piedmont Highlanders of Piedmont, California, because it allows all 11 players to be potential receivers. A recent New York Times article describes how it works:

By placing one of the quarterbacks at least seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, and no one under center to receive the snap, the A-11 qualifies as a scrimmage kick formation — the alignments used for punts and extra points. Thus interior linemen are granted an exception from having to wear jersey numbers 50 through 79. (The exception was intended to allow a team’s deep snapper not to have to switch to a lineman’s jersey if he was a back or an end.) Any player wearing jersey numbers 1 through 49 and 80 through 99 is potentially eligible to receive a pass.

Piedmont’s basic A-11 formation calls for a center flanked by two guards, who are essentially tight ends. Two quarterbacks, or a quarterback and a running back, line up behind the center, with three receivers split to each side.

Under football rules, seven players must begin each play on the line of scrimmage and only five are permitted to run downfield to receive a pass — the two players at the end of the line and three situated behind the line. The difficult task for a team defending against the A-11 is to quickly and accurately figure out who those five eligible receivers are.

You can listen to the audio of the Weekend America story in the player below, or on the Weekend America website.

Scientific American magazine crunched the numbers, and figured out that while a standard football formation allows for 36 different scenarios for advancing the ball, A-11 offers a mind-blowing 16,632. Basically, it makes every play is a trick play, and it forces the defense to pay extremely close attention. Here is a video with some sample clips, showing just how potentially confusing this style of offense is.

A-11 currently only works in high school football because of a loophole in the rules, but I think the rule makers would be wise to consider allowing it permanently. This seems like one of the most dramatic innovations in the sport that I’ve seen in my lifetime. It gives small schools with small players a chance to stay in the game and compete with teams they otherwise couldn’t.

Honestly – is the best excuse for the continued survival of the offensive line, “because it’s always been that way, and that’s just how it’s done.”? That’s a pretty weak argument against progress, in my point of view.

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