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Playoffs expanded

OHSAA adds 4 qualifiers in each region

Correspondent file photo / Michael Taylor Springfield’s Beau Brungard (21) splits two Mogadore defenders during the Tigers’ 35-21 win over the Wildcats Nov. 22 at South Range in the 2019 Division VI, Region 21 final. The OHSAA announced on Wednesday it will increase the number of playoff qualifiers in each region from eight to 12 teams.

Niles football coach Jim Parry saw his team finish 7-3 last fall, its best record since 2012 when the Red Dragons made the postseason.

The Red Dragons finished 11th in the Division III, Region 9 final computer ratings. The top eight in each region, Divisions I-VII, advanced to the postseason.

Niles would’ve been in the top eight in two of the regions in Division III and would have been ninth in the other. Needless to say, the Red Dragons were disappointed.

“If you take care of your own business, you get in under the eight. It doesn’t do much looking back, I guess,” Parry said.

But come 2021, teams in the situation in which Niles found itself last fall won’t have to wonder what might have been.

On Wednesday, the Ohio High School Athletic Association expanded the football postseason from eight teams in each region to 12, with an OHSAA Board of Directors vote of 9-0. The move was based on a proposal from the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association.

The last time the OHSAA expanded the football playoffs was 2013 when it added Division VII. The number of playoff teams from each region went from four to eight teams in 1999.

Currently 224 teams make the postseason, but that number will be 336 in 2021. Last season, there were 709 schools in Ohio playing 11-man football. There are from 25-30 schools in each region in Divisions II-VII, and 17 or 18 schools in each region of Division I.

The state finals are still slated to end the first weekend of December and schools are allowed to schedule 10 regular-season games. For that to happen, the playoffs would begin Oct. 29-30 and the season would start Aug. 20-21.

“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 news 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.”

The plan includes a first-round bye for the top four seeds in each region. In that round, the No. 5 seed will face No. 12, No. 6 vs. No. 11, No. 7 vs. No. 10 and No. 8 vs. No. 9. In the second round (regional quarterfinals) No. 1 meets the 8-9 winner and No. 4 faces the 5-12 winner on one side of the bracket and it will be No. 2 vs. 7-10 winner and No. 3 vs. 6-11 winner on the opposite side.

Cardinal Mooney coach P.J. Fecko said the change gives a chance for more teams to celebrate the postseason. The Cardinals were No. 11 with a 4-6 record last season in Division IV, Region 13.

The change also is an opportunity for teams to challenge themselves during the 10-game regular season, being more prepared for the postseason, Fecko added.

“It allows people to play a tougher schedule,” he said. “There’s more margin for error. Hopefully folks will go test themselves and prepare themselves for the playoffs by playing tougher teams knowing there is going to be a bigger field eligible for the playoffs.”

Some teams are going to be fine with their schedules.

“I don’t see a lot of change in our philosophy of scheduling,” Parry said. “If we get an opportunity to play a school, we say, ‘Is it in the best interest of our athletes to do that?’ Right now, I really love our schedule. I hope we can keep it going as it is.”

Even with the expansion, Warren G. Harding coach Steve Arnold said you still have to get the computer points to make the postseason. The Raiders finished 7-3 last season and were the eighth and final team to make the playoffs in Division II, Region 5 with teams like Akron Hoban and Massillon.

“I don’t how much it helps because you still have to go out and win football games,” Arnold said. “You’re adding four teams, but you still have to take care of business over the course of the regular season. What it does is it gets more communities, more school districts excited with four extra teams in the region to get in the playoffs.

“I don’t think your approach changes to what your offseason goals are and things of that nature. I don’t think that changes.”

Canfield coach Mike Pavlansky, whose team finished No. 10 in Division III, Region 9 at 7-3 last season, said it’ll take a while for this to shake out to see if it works. As for a bye in the first round for the top four seeds, it can be a double-edged sword.

“Maybe a team that’s beat up after 10 weeks gets a week to heal up,” he said. “Then, a team that’s on a roll at the end of the year, you may lose some momentum by having a bye week at that point in the season.

“All that stuff has to play out in the next few years when this thing starts. Then, you adjust accordingly.”

Mineral Ridge coach Brian Shaner, whose team finished 5-5 and was No. 14 in Division VI, Region 21, said the move by the OHSAA is exciting.

“Now there’s expansion, some people are going to say it’s going to water the playoffs down,” he said. “For us, and for everybody, you may have one of those losses in your regular season that you slipped up on, took a loss and you just didn’t make the playoffs. We see it every year, a really good football team finished ninth or 10th, just out of the top eight.

“Now it gives those teams a chance to get in. Right now, I think it’s a good thing. After a couple of years, who knows?”

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