Football playoffs to start early
COLUMBUS — It appears if there is a high school football season this fall, there will be fewer games after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s office expressed concerns over the COVID-19 virus spiking in the early winter.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced on Friday if high school football games are approved by the governor, the playoffs will begin on Oct. 9 with the state championship games being played no later than Nov. 21. Under the plan the regular season will still start the week of Aug. 24 and run for six weeks until the playoffs begin.
“It was a stunner,” Columbiana football coach Bob Spaite said of OHSAA’s late Friday afternoon announcement.
Spaite said he got on the phone with Lakeview head coach and Ohio High School Football Coaches Association President Tom Pavlansky right after the announcement was made. He said that Pavlansky reacted positively to the announcement because it at least showed that OHSAA wanted to guarantee some kind of football season.
“This still introduces a lot more questions than answers,” Spaite said.
The OHSAA Board of Directors signed off on the proposal in which the OHSAA staff had input by a 9-0 vote. The computer rating system will not determine which teams enter the playoffs, instead coaches in each region will conduct a tournament seeding meeting during the week of Sept. 28 to form the regional bracket for schools who choose to participate in the playoffs. The process will mirror what is done in other OHSAA team sports.
OHSAA said schools may keep their first six previously-scheduled games, but all regular-season football contracts are now voidable. Conferences may choose to redo entire schedules to accommodate league play if possible.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference commissioner Howard Friend said. “They could still pull the plug on us, but I think the OHSAA is still trying to come up with something to make it work with the Ohio Department of Health.”
New playoff regions will be determined in September. Schools that are eliminated from the playoffs may continue to schedule regular-season games up until Nov. 14.
The higher-seeded team in the playoffs will host games through the regional semifinals. Schools must commit to participate in the playoffs by 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 17. Regions will be drawn on Sept. 18.
Schools that have currently paused sports could still begin their season in September or early October and compete in the playoffs. Schools are not required to enter the playoffs if they would rather play regular-season games up until Nov. 14.
Friend said athletic directors from EOAC schools met Friday afternoon at Lisbon’s War Memorial Stadium. Everything changed after the meeting when the OHSAA decision came down.
Now a Zoom meeting will be held Sunday afternoon to see where the league teams go from here as far as scheduling.
“We’re going to talk about a lot of stuff and let it sit and digest it a day or two,
Friend said. “Then we’ll set up another Zoom meeting.”
Valley Christian is a league member in every sport except for football this school year because of scheduling. Since the OHSAA said all contracts are void, it opens the possibility of Valley Christian playing a league schedule this football season and giving the EOAC eight teams.
“I think it makes sense to play the league games first,” Friend said. “Valley Christian has been coming to our meetings. We’ll do what we can to work them in. It’s not guaranteed.
“Who know what is going to happen for anyone if some schools test positive? There are a lot of unknowns. We’ll decide this coming week how we’ll set up the schedules. All of the schools will do what they can to work them in.”
Spaite said he was unsure how coaches and schools would deal with the possibility of playing playoff football or more regular-season games due to questions about revenue.
“If we choose to go into the playoffs and all of that money goes to OHSAA then how is it fair that the schools still playing regular season games get to keep all that revenue?,” Spaite said.
Spaite also expressed concerns about adding onto a schedule after a team is eliminated from the playoffs.
“I know at Columbiana we’ll want to play 10 games if possible, but what about those teams that are 0-6 and 1-5? Do you think they will want to keep playing?” Spaite said.
The OHSAA said the plan seems like the best possible way forward.
“To both ensure we can offer students the opportunity to participate in education-based athletes but do so with their best interests in mind, we believe this modified plan offers a positive solution by addressing many of the concerns of our member schools,” said Jeff Cassella, president of the OHSAA Board of Directors and athletic administrator at Mentor High School. “Those that are able to start their seasons on time will be able to do so. Those that are starting later can still have a season. Add in the option of all schools entering the playoffs and the possibility of schools still being able to play 10 regular season contests, and this plan is helpful to virtually all of our schools.”
The highest number of responses to one of the questions posed of superintendents, principals and athletic administrators in a recent OHSAA membership survey indicated that nearly 60 percent (890 of 1,498 respondents) favored either reducing the regular season and maintaining full OHSAA tournaments or maintaining the full regular season and maintaining full OHSAA tournaments.
A decision on spectators at contact sports has not yet been made, however the OHSAA believes that, at a minimum, parents should be permitted to attend.
“I don’t think anyone is going to sell season tickets,” Friend said. “We’re hopeful, but we’ll see what happens in the next week.”