PREBLE COUNTY — On May 20, the Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors unanimously voted for an expansion of the OHSAA football playoffs from eight schools per region to 12 schools beginning in 2021.
The vote will increase the number of qualifying teams from 224 to 336, nearly half of the 709 high schools in Ohio which participated in 11-man football last season.
The top four seeds in the playoffs will now have byes. No. 12 will play at No. 5, No. 11 will play at No. 6, No. 10 will play at No. 7, and No. 9 will play at No. 8.
In the second round, the No. 1 seed will play the winner of the No. 8/9 game, the No. 2 seed will play the winner of the No. 10/7 game, the No. 3 seed will play the winner of the No. 11/6 game, and the No. 4 seed will play the winner of the No. 5/12 game.
Despite the extended playoff bracket, the 2021 football finals are expected to end during the normally scheduled weekend of Dec. 2-5.
Preble Shawnee head coach Dave Maddox was happy to hear the announcement and acknowledged the change is likely good for his team, but it also provides exciting opportunities for more kids to compete in the playoffs.
“I’m happy about it. I think it will be good for not only our team but for a lot of teams,” Maddox said. “The more you get teams involved with the playoffs, it will be better for that many more programs.”
Preble Shawnee, who has never made the OHSAA football playoffs, would have qualified in 2001 and 2017 under the new rules.
“Shawnee’s never made the playoffs,” Maddox said. “My main priority is the welfare of our program, and so I look at it like what’s going to be best for our program, and I think expanding the playoffs is giving us a better shot to get in.”
While Maddox sees playoff expansion as an easier path to the playoffs, National Trail head coach Mark Hoffman sees a greater challenge ahead in his school’s region.
“When I saw the regions, I turned to a couple of coaches, my [athletic director], I said, ‘We might as well be in the MAC.’ We’re in there with those schools, like four or five of them in there, and three of them have won the state and the other two have gone all the way down to the wire in the playoffs,” Hoffman said. “I just looked at it and I said, ‘You know, if we ever come out of that region, we’ll have about an 80 or 90 percent chance of winning the state.’ I think that region is just that tough.”
The challenge will be greater for Trail in Region 24 with new alignments sending five former state champions from multiple divisions to the region. Even with the increased number of playoff spots in 2021, there are more talented teams than ever competing, but Hoffman looks forward to the challenge.
“If you’re gonna play with the big boys, you’ve got to beat the big boys,” Hoffman said. “If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to play the guys that are successful.”
Adam Hall is entering his first year as head coach for Tri-County North, and with the Panthers not having made the playoffs since 2014, he said it’s a good thing that more teams have a chance to make the playoffs.
“More football is better for everybody,” Hall said.
Having nearly half of the teams in every region making the playoffs could be seen as excessive, but Hall doesn’t believe that more teams take anything away from the accomplishment of making the playoffs.
“I felt like it was a real accomplishment to get in with only eight teams, but I don’t think anyone in the playoffs next year is gonna be like, ‘Well, this doesn’t feel as good,’” Hall said.
Chris Fogle, newly-announced head coach at Twin Valley South, aligns with Hall’s assessment that more teams in the playoffs are a good thing.
“It gives some other schools a chance to get in, adds some parity to the playoffs a little bit,” Fogle said. “You never know what’s gonna happen, which team’s hot at the end of the season.”
He also believes the added spots could create more encouragement for teams and players who have been on the cusp of reaching the playoffs but have never made it before.
“Teams that are struggling, you’re on that verge of getting a little bit better, it gives you a better chance, a reality of saying, ‘Hey, you did make the playoffs,’” Fogle said. “It helps encourage those kids to work a little bit harder to get to that level.”
The OHSAA will conduct its final season with eight teams per region this fall before transitioning to 12 teams in 2021, and the organization looks forward to giving more schools a chance to participate in the playoffs.
“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.”
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4061 or follow on Twitter @BradenMoles