Fairbanks’ Riordin Stauffer (24) picks up yardage during the 2019 game against West Liberty-Salem. The Ohio High School Athletic Association will expand the state playoffs from eight teams in each region to 12, beginning with the 2021 season. (Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
Additional high school football teams in Ohio will be eligible for post-season competition, beginning with the 2021 season.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) board of directors unanimously (9-0) voted on Wednesday to expand the state playoffs.
The current structure sends the top eight teams in each region to the post-season.
The playoff lineup will expand to the top 12 teams in each region in 2021.
“I’m OK with the expansion, even though I’m not a huge fan of it,” said Fairbanks High School head coach Patrick Cotter.
“What I really like about the current setup is the selectivity of the playoffs and its rewards for the top teams.”
Cotter’s squad earned a post-season berth following the 2018 campaign.
The Panthers just missed out on the playoffs in 2019, finishing ninth in their Division VI region.
“That was the difference between winning and losing a game during the regular season,” said Cotter.
The Panther coach was asked if expanding the playoff picture would dilute the product.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “The OHSAA state football playoffs are one of the greatest in the country. This will give more teams and communities the opportunity to experience the playoffs.”
The expansion vote was based on a proposal that had been submitted by the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association.
The playoff setup, beginning in 2021, will be as follows:
-The top four seeds in each region will earn a first-round bye;
-The opening round will see the following match-ups: the No. 12 seed will play at the No. 5 seed, No. 11 at No. 6, No. 10 at No. 7 and No. 9 at No. 8.
During the second round, the No. 1 seed will play the winner of the 8-9 game; the No. 2 seed will play the winner of 6-11; the No. 3 seed will play the winner of 7-10 and the No. 4 seed will play the winner of 5-12.
“This could give some teams the chance to host a couple of playoff games,” said Cotter.
As of now, the top four teams in each region host an opening-round contest.
Jonathan Alder head coach Brett Glass said he is “on the fence” concerning the expansion.
“At first, I didn’t like it at all,” he said. “I felt eight teams from each region was meaningful and we just weren’t giving away playoff berths.
“The more I thought about it, however, I realize it will give more student-athletes the opportunity to experience the playoffs.”
Glass, who has led JA to several playoff berths, did say the expansion will help some teams fill out their schedules as far as non-conference games.
“At times, we’ve had trouble scheduling non-conference contests,” he said. “Now, I feel teams will have an easier time with schedules.
“If you schedule a tough non-conference game and lose it, it won’t necessarily knock you out of a playoff opportunity.”
The expansion will increase the number of playoff qualifiers from 224 to 336.
Last year, there were 709 schools in Ohio that played 11-man football.
Football is the only OHSAA team sport in which not every school qualifies for the postseason.
“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.
“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.”
Rugg also noted the football finals in 2021 are expected to end during the same weekend as previously scheduled (Dec. 2-5). Schools will still be permitted to play 10 regular-season contests.
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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