What was once 12 quickly became 16 when the Ohio High School Athletic Association recently announced an expansion of the high school football playoffs.  From 1999 through 2019, eight teams in each region qualified for the playoffs.  Then it became 12.  Now it is 16.

The OHSAA initially rolled out a scenario for the 2021 season whereby 12 teams would qualify, with the top four receiving byes in the first round.  But there were also rumors at the time that it could move to 16 within the next few years.  It turns out that the OHSAA, which was starved of funds last year during the pandemic, must have seen an opportunity to recoup some of those lost funds and elected to go all the way this year.

In the past, each school was allotted a percentage of the proceeds from ticket sales.  But last year the OHSAA controlled all of the sales through an Internet portal and retained all the funds.  The same sales method will probably be in place again this year.

“Last fall we received overwhelmingly positive feedback when we allowed every team to enter the football playoffs due to the shortened season because of COVID-19,” said Doug Ute, OHSAA Executive Director. “We know there are some who want to keep the football postseason to a smaller number of schools, but the postseason tournament gives such a positive experience for our student-athletes, the schools and their communities that we felt strongly about giving that opportunity to more schools to make the playoffs. And football remains the OHSAA sport in which not every team automatically qualifies for the postseason.” – OHSAA website

According to the new format, in the first round the No. 1 seed will play the No. 16 seed, the No. 2 seed will play the No. 15 seed, etc., with the higher seeds hosting the games.  The higher seeds of those winners will then host the second round games.  Starting in the third round, all games will be played at neutral sites.  The playoffs will begin on October 9 and finish on Sunday, December 5, encompassing six weeks of additional play.

For Division 1 schools, which have 18 teams in each region, only two teams per region will fail to qualify.  So from that standpoint, it serves well to be a Division 1 school.  Had the new format been in place following the 2019 season, the eight non-qualifiers from Division 1 would have been Newark (1-9), Canton GlenOak  (1-9), Beavercreek (2-8), Toledo Bowsher (3-7), Columbus Mifflin (1-9), Sylvania Southview (1-9), Cincinnati Moeller (2-8) and Cincinnati Oak Hills (0-10).

The remaining divisions have approximately 25 teams in each region, which means that around 60% of those will qualify, still a sizeable percentage.  For Division 2, 14 of the 17 teams that finished 5-5 would have qualified.  Also, the worst record of the qualifiers would have been 3-7, which includes Boardman with wins over Poland Seminary (8-2), Garfield Heights (6-4) and Youngstown Ursuline (2-8), and Lima Senior with wins over Lima Central Catholic (9-1), Piqua (5-5) and Fremont Ross (1-9).

Massillon has been a high placer in recent years and as a result, if trends continue, those first round games may be extremely one-sided affairs.  If the situation would have been in place during the past five years, the opponents would have been:

  • 2016 – Columbus Walnut Ridge (6-4)
  • 2017 – Columbus Franklin Heights (5-5)
  • 2018 – Licking Heights (6-4)
  • 2019 – Akron Ellet (5-5)
  • 2020 – Licking Heights (2-3)

Not exactly a stellar group.  But at least gives the Tigers an opportunity to regroup following the emotional game with Canton McKinley.

but another advantage of the new format, at least for independent schools like Massillon and some of the parochial schools, is that highly competitive schedules will probably not hurt their chances to qualify for the playoffs.  So look for more of the St. Ignatius’s and St. Ed’s on the Tigers’ slate in the future.  It beats playing Akron Firestone.

With 16 teams now qualifying and the first two game potentially at home, the ultimate goal of this new format then is to finish in the region’s Top 4.  That would provide the best opportunity to play those first two games in the friendly confines of Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.