OHSAA doubles football playoff field

COLUMBUS — The Ohio High School Athletic Association planned on holding state football playoffs that included 12 qualifying teams per region in 2021.

After experimenting with a format that allowed any team to participate in the playoffs during the COVID disrupted 2020 season, the state high school governing body is scrapping those plans.

On Thursday, the OHSAA Board of Directors announced that the top 16 teams in each region will qualify for the 2021 playoffs, effectively expanding the playoff field from 224 to 448 teams. The higher seeded team will host first and second round playoff games, instead of only the first round, before neutral sites are used beginning with the regional semifinals. In the first round, the No. 16 seed will play at the No. 1 seed, the No. 15 seed will play at the No. 2 seed, etc.

“Last fall we received overwhelmingly positive feedback when we allowed every team to enter the football playoffs due to the shortened season because of COVID-19,” said Doug Ute, OHSAA Executive Director. “We know there are some who want to keep the football postseason to a smaller number of schools, but the postseason tournament gives such a positive experience for our student-athletes, the schools and their communities that we felt strongly about giving that opportunity to more schools to make the playoffs. And football remains the only OHSAA sport in which not every team automatically qualifies for the postseason.”

The decision to expand the playoff field was met with resistance from the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association who claims the OHSAA did not work in good faith with the coaches to come up with a viable expansion plan.

“We are extremely disappointed in (the) vote by the OHSAA without consulting the OHSFCA,” the group’s Board of Directors said in a statement issued Thursday night. “It is abundantly clear that this decision is financially motivated.”

The OHSAA is also exploring adding a strength of schedule component to the Harbin computer ratings, which are used to determine the playoff qualifiers. A strength of schedule component could be added in 2022.

The site of the state championship games has not yet been determined, but the format will include one game Thursday, Dec. 2, and two games each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 3-5.

During the regional semifinals and regional finals at neutral sites, the higher seeded team will be the designated home team. The OHSAA then determines the sites and matchups for the state semifinals.

Last year there were 709 schools in Ohio that played 11-man football. Since 1999, eight schools in each region have qualified for the playoffs. In May 2020, the OHSAA announced that the football playoffs would expand to 12 teams per region in 2021 and the top four seeds in each region would have a first-round bye. Expanding to 16 schools per region does not add a week to the postseason since it was already now six weeks, it simply eliminates the byes.

During the first five rounds of the playoffs, Division I, II, III and IV schools will play on Friday nights, while Division V, VI and VII schools will play on Saturday nights.

The first Friday of the regular-season is Aug. 20, and the regular-season will conclude on Oct. 23. The first round of the playoffs are set for Oct. 29-30.

The OHSAA football playoffs began in 1972 when only 12 schools qualified for the playoffs (four schools in each of three classes).

Expansion first came in 1980 when the OHSAA changed to five divisions with eight teams each (40 total qualifiers). A sixth division was added in 1994 (96 total qualifiers) and the number of qualifiers was increased to eight schools per region in 1999 (192 total qualifiers). A seventh division was added in 2013 to bring the number of qualifiers to 224.


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