COLUMBUS — The Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors unanimously voted to expand the football playoffs during its May meeting Wednesday, allowing 12 teams per region instead of eight starting in the 2021 season.
Under the new format, the top four regional seeds will receive a bye in the first round. The higher-seeded team will have the opportunity to host each of the first two playoff games.
The expansion increases the number of playoff-qualifying teams from 224 to 336 out of a pool of 709 schools with 11-man football in Ohio. Football is the only OHSAA team sport without an all-inclusive postseason format.
“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 deals for 2021,” football administrator and Senior Director of Officiating and Sport Management for the OHSAA Beau Rugg said in a 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.”
Two Henry County teams qualified for the OHSAA playoffs last season, with Patrick Henry advancing to the Division VII state semifinal and Liberty Center bowing out in the Division VI regional semifinal. LC was a state semifinalist in 2018.
Holgate made the switch to eight-man football in 2019 and no longer competes on the OHSAA’s gridiron circuit, while Napoleon last made the playoffs in 2013.
Under the expanded format, the 2021 state finals are still expected to end during the originally-scheduled final weekend (Dec. 2-5). The move also has no impact on team scheduling requirements in the regular season, as 10 games are still permitted.
Napoleon football coach Tory Strock said he is pleased to see the playoff field expand.
“I am in total support of the expansion,” said Strock. “First and foremost it provides more opportunities for kids. In addition we’ve had multiple teams just miss the top eight that I know could have won some playoff games.”
The Napoleon coach pointed to the Wildcats teams in 2016 and 2018, when they were 11th in the final computer poll, and in 2015, when they were 10th.
“With the league we are in it gives us a better chance to be rewarded for playing a tremendous schedule,” said Strock. “Those clamoring about mismatches may be surprised. The match-ups, especially in the top five divisions, will be better than people think.”
The first OHSAA football playoffs in 1972 included 12 qualifying teams, with four schools representing each of the existing three divisions. The first expansion came in 1980, when the OHSAA changed to five divisions with eight teams each, totaling 40 qualifiers.
A sixth division was added in 1994 to bring the total to 96 qualifiers before the number of qualifiers was increased to eight schools per region in 1999 for 192 total qualifiers. The seventh division was added in 2013 to bring the number of qualifiers to 224.
The conclusive 9-0 vote was given to a recommendation from the OHSAA staff, which was based on a proposal from the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association.
NWS Sports Editor Jeffery R. Ratliff contributed to this report.