COLUMBUS — Ch-ch-ch-changes are coming to the high school football landscape in Ohio. The playoffs are expanding for the first time since the Ohio High School Athletic Assocation added a seventh division in 2013.
What started as 12 schools over three classes in 1972 when the OHSAA football playoffs began has gone through four previous changes. Beginning in 2021, there will be 336 teams that can qualify for the playoffs.
The proposal was submitted by the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association and passed by a unanimous 9-0 vote by the OHSAA board of the directors and announced Wednesday.
“I wasn’t very optimistic that it would pass. I think it could have gone either way,” East Knox coach Cody Reese said. “I like the idea of giving more schools, more players, more coaches, more programs and more communities the opportunity to play beyond the regular season. With the tradition of high school football in Ohio, it will only enrich that process and experience for all involved. I think this will be a very positive game going forward.”
“I think it’s an exciting thing for kids,” Mount Vernon coach Mike Kerr said. “Anything that gets kids more experience and better experience in high school, I’m all for. So, I think it’s an overall positive thing.”
“You could always say that it’s watered down a little bit, getting more teams in that manner,” Highland coach Matt Jones said. “But it’s an opportunity to get (more) kids an opportunity to play in Week 11 and possibly further than that.”
Centerburg finished 7-3 overall last season, which was good for 12th in the Division VI, Region 22 playoff rankings. That would have easily made the Trojans a playoff team in the new system. Their last appearance came in 2014.
“I understand both sides of the argument,” Centerburg coach Andy Colella said. “I think it gives more teams an opportunity. (We) could have benefited from that last year and a couple of times previously.
“Right now, in our league, if you win eight games, you’re pretty much in. But if you get seven wins, that’s when that conversation comes into play. I think we were playing pretty good football at the end of the season. If we would have gotten in, I think we would have fared pretty well.”
East Knox went on an historic run all the way to the state final four last season. The Bulldogs qualified for the state playoffs seven times before last season and could have added a couple more appearances in 2017 and ‘18.
“We know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in,” Reese quipped.
Would trips in both of those seasons made 2019 any less special?
“I think so because of the amount of success we were able to have in the postseason,” Reese said. “The previous two years, not knowing how far we would have gone, could it have maybe taken away the excitement of getting to the playoffs? Potentially. I think it would have taken a little of the zest from it. But, nonetheless, winning a regional title was certainly very exciting to say the least.”
Ultimately, it didn’t matter to Colella. It doesn’t change the past.
“You look back and reflect, but at the same time, you can’t replay the scenarios,” Colella said. “If (the playoffs were expanded), we would have been in. But we don’t have any control over it. It’s the same thing going forward, whether you agree with it or not. That’s what the rules are. You’ve gotta play by them and figure out a way to do best by them.”
Kerr wasn’t ready to get on Joe Eitel’s website to check the possibilities. The Yellow Jackets’ lone playoff appearance came in 1993.
“That was definitely my first thought,” Kerr said. “I thought, I can’t do that because I don’t want to be disappointed. If we finish in that little window of nine to 12, I think I would have just been more disappointed. It’s just better for me not to know.”
The Yellow Jackets finished ninth in Division II Region 5 in 2014, missing the playoffs by one spot in the current configuration, but would have been a playoff team in the new system. In 2002, in Division II Region 7, they finished 11th.
Kerr’s biggest concern came with preparation before the season.
“From what I understand, they’re going to start the season a little bit earlier. So, the state championship game would be played on the same weekend,” he said. “Making sure that the kids are ready to go for Game 1. I know they’re cutting down scrimmages from three to two. So, that ability to get ready for Game 1 is somewhat concerning. But I think the benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks.”
Jones noted that the week off could cause some teams problems.
“It’s going to be interesting with the bye week thrown in there if you happen to be in the top four,” Jones said. “It’s going to come down to your team and where you’re at with your leadership. If you’re in good shape and program is solid, then I think you’re going to be fine. It’s going to be different though if you’re going to have to take a week off and then start back up. It’s not something your kids are used to doing and not something we’re used to doing as a staff. It’s definitely a different concept. But it could be good too at the same time.”
Another benefit? Money, of course.
“It’s not a money-grab necessarily for the (OHSAA), even though it’ll benefit them,” Colella said. “It’s also a money-maker for schools. You get more schools that are able to host a game in the playoffs for booster clubs, the band and all of the other things that are involved. There are some benefits, for sure.”
The times they are a-changin for sure. Then again, they always have.
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