OHSAA expands H.S. football playoffs

OHSAA expands H.S. football playoffs
Dave Mast

The Ohio High School Athletic Association had to sift through last year’s football playoff system by trial and error, allowing any team that wanted to compete to do so. That may have played a role in the OHSAA expanding the playoff format from eight to 16 teams this coming season.


Last season the Ohio High School Athletic Association had to scramble in creating a new system of playoff games for the high school football season. Because of a truncated schedule, the OHSAA allowed any team that wanted to join the playoffs into the game.

Apparently, it liked a little bit of what it saw.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors approved the 2021 football tournament regulations during its April board meeting and included proposals from the OHSAA staff to increase the number of playoff qualifiers and change the format of the regional playoffs.

The number of playoff qualifiers will expand to 16 schools per region. In addition, the higher seeded team will host first- and second-round playoff games, instead of only the first round, before neutral sites are used beginning with the regional semifinals. In the first round, the No. 16 seed will play at the No. 1 seed, the No. 15 seed will play at the No. 2 seed and so on.

“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 only OHSAA sport in which not every team automatically qualifies for the postseason.”

The OHSAA also is exploring adding a strength-of-schedule component to the Harbin computer ratings, which are used to determine the playoff qualifiers. A strength-of-schedule component could be added in 2022.

The site of the state championship games has not yet been determined, but the format will include one game on Thursday, Dec. 2 and two games each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 3-5.

During the regional semifinals and regional finals at neutral sites, the higher seeded team will be the designated home team. The OHSAA then determines the sites and match-ups for the state semifinals.

The expansion will increase the number of football playoff qualifiers from 224 to 448. Last year there were 709 schools in Ohio that played 11-man football. Since 1999 eight schools in each region have qualified for the playoffs. In May 2020 the OHSAA announced the football playoffs would expand to 12 teams per region in 2021 and the top-four seeds in each region would have a first-round bye. Expanding to 16 schools per region does not add a week to the postseason because it was already now six weeks. It simply eliminates the byes.

During the first five rounds of the playoffs, Div. I, II, III and IV schools will play on Friday nights while Div. V, VI and VII schools will play on Saturday nights.

The 2021 OHSAA football playoff schedule

Oct. 29-30 will be the first round at higher seeded teams.

Nov. 5-6 will be the regional quarterfinals at higher seeded teams.

Nov. 12-13 will be regional semifinals at neutral sites.

Nov. 19-20 will be regional finals at neutral sites.

Nov. 26-27 will be the state semifinals at neutral sites.

Dec. 2-5 will be the state championships at a site to be determined with one game on Thursday and two games each day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The OHSAA football playoffs began in 1972 when only 12 schools qualified for the playoffs (four schools in each of three classes). Expansion first came in 1980 when the OHSAA changed to five divisions with eight teams each (40 total qualifiers). A sixth division was added in 1994 (96 total qualifiers), and the number of qualifiers was increased to eight schools per region in 1999 (192 total qualifiers). A seventh division was added in 2013 to bring the number of qualifiers to 224.

As a reminder, in January the board approved the general football regulations, which permit schools to fulfill two of the required five acclimatization days in July in advance of official practice beginning on Sunday, Aug. 1. Two scrimmages are permitted from Aug. 6-14 with either or both scrimmages permitted to be jamboree games.

The first Friday of the regular season is Aug. 20, and the regular season will conclude on Saturday, Oct. 23.

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