The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced a major shakeup to its postseason football format on Wednesday.
The OHSAA will expand its football playoff field for the first time in more than two decades. The playoff field will expand from eight teams to 12 teams per region, starting in 2021.
The OHSAA Board of Directors voted unanimously, 9-0, during its May meeting to expand the postseason. The proposal started with a recommendation from the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association.
“We still have details to work out regarding the format and specific season dates, but this vote by the Board gives us the green light to finalize those details for 2021,” said Beau Rugg, Senior Director of Officiating and Sport Management for the OHSAA and the Association’s football administrator, in a press release. “We are thankful for the Board’s support on this proposal, which will bring all the great things of playoff football to 112 additional schools and communities.”
Currently, eight teams per region make the playoffs. The top four seeds host the first-round games.
Under the new format, the top four teams in each region will receive a first-round bye. The No. 5 seed will host the No. 12 seed, No. 6 will host No. 11, No. 7 will host No. 10 and No. 8 will host No. 9 in opening round games.
The top four seeds will then host the semifinal round games — No. 1 seed will play the winner of the 8 vs. 9 game; the No. 2 seed will play the winner of 6 vs. 11; the No. 3 seed will play the winner of 7 vs. 10 and the No. 4 seed will play the winner of 5 vs. 12.
The playoff field across seven divisions will expand from 224 teams to 336. According to the OHSAA, 709 schools in Ohio played 11-man football last season. Football is the only OHSAA sport that doesn’t see every team automatically play in the postseason.
The format would have impacted two county teams during last season, had it been in place. Nelsonville-York missed out on the playoff field by a fraction of a point, finishing ninth in Division VI, Region 21.
Instead of having their season end, the Buckeyes would have traveled to take on No. 8 Western Reserve under the new format.
Trimble finished No. 4 in Region 21, and faced a 10-0 Salineville Southern team inside Glouster Memorial Stadium. Instead of facing an unbeaten team right out of the gate, the Tomcats would have gotten a week off, while Southern would have hosted No. 12 East Canton. The winner would have then traveled to Glouster to take on the Tomcats.
The format would obviously keep more teams feeling like the postseason is possible late in the season. The Belpre Golden Eagles finished 13th in Region 21, and were essentially mathematically eliminated from climbing into a top-eight slot with two games left. Under the new format, Belpre would have at least remained alive for a playoff opportunity going into its final game against Waterford.
In Division VII, Region 27, the Eastern Eagles went 8-2 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Instead of traveling to Newark Catholic in week 11, the Eagles would have had the opportunity to host a playoff game, as Frontier would have traveled to Meigs County for the opening-round game.
Rugg said in the press release that the 2021 football finals are expected to end during the first weekend in December, and 10-game regular-season games will still be the norm.
The most likely scenario will be the regular season beginning a week earlier. Football practices begin Aug. 1 in Ohio, but the 2019 season opener wasn’t until Friday, Aug. 30. Teams had nearly a month of preseason preparation before kicking off the season.
The OHSAA first adopted a playoff system for the 1972 season, and only 12 teams across the state made the playoffs. There were three divisions at the time, and only the top team in each region qualified.
The playoff system first grew in 1980, when the OHSAA moved to five divisions with the top two teams in each region making the postseason. There were 40 total teams that made it that season, with Trimble becoming the first Athens County team to make the postseason with a 10-0 record. Nelsonville-York followed up by winning a Division IV state championship in 1981.
The OHSAA started taking four teams per region to the playoffs starting in 1985, giving the chance for 80 teams to make the postseason. A sixth division was added in 1994, and 96 teams now qualified for the playoffs.
The number of qualifying teams went to eight per region in 1999, with schools hosting first-round games for the first time. There were now 192 teams in the postseason. The seventh division was added in 2013, putting 224 teams in the playoffs.