MANSFIELD — The newly redrawn football regions were unveiled Sunday afternoon, shedding light on what Ohio’s first ever all-inclusive postseason will look like.
In previous years, teams had to earn one of the 224 available playoff invitations based on their regular season success. The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced in early August that, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the regular season would be shortened to six weeks and any school wanting to participate in the playoffs would be eligible.
Of the state’s 709 football-playing schools, 664 opted in to the playoffs. Every school in the Richland Source’s coverage area plans to participate.
The OHSAA reconfigured its regions late last week based on the opt-in list. The regional seeds will be determined by a coaches vote, which will take place after this week’s games, and the regional tournament brackets will be revealed Oct. 1.
First-round playoff games will begin the weekend of Oct. 9, which would have been Week 7 of the regular season. The higher-seeded team will have the option to host games through at least the regional semifinals before games are eventually shifted to neutral sites. The championship games will be played the weekend of Nov. 21, but unlike years’ past the seven state championship games (one for each of Ohio’s seven enrollment divisions) won’t all be played at one site.
Locally, Region 10 of Division III will have a vastly different look from a year ago. In 2019, Region 10 (which includes reigning regional champ and state runner-up Mansfield Senior, Madison, Lexington and Ashland) had 27 teams. This year, the region has just 22 teams. The region includes Toledo and parts of Cleveland and those schools opted out of the playoffs.
Consequently, Region 10 is among the smallest non-Division I regions in the state.
Region 14 of Division IV which includes Ontario, Shelby, Clear Fork and Galion, is down three schools from 2019.
The question on most football fans’ minds is what will a 20-plus team regional tournament bracket look like? In basketball (and every OHSAA-sanctioned team tournament with the exception of football) there are sectional and district tournaments that feed the regional. Four sectional champs advance to the district tournament and the winner of the district joins three other district champs at the regional level. The regional winner then advances to the state semifinals.
The plan for the football tournament is to seed every team in each region (there are 28, four in each of the seven enrollment divisions, determined geographically). Depending on the number of schools in each region, several higher-seeded teams will be eligible for first-round byes.
For example, the aforementioned Region 10 will feature a 22-team bracket. The top 10 seeds would be eligible for a first-round bye while Nos. 11 to 22 would play. That would leave 16 teams remaining in the second round.
Region 22 of Division VI has 27 schools, including local entrants Crestview, Colonel Crawford and Bucyrus. Only the top five seeds would be eligible for first-round byes on a 27-team tournament bracket.
In other team tournaments, it’s not unusual to see higher seeds that are eligible for a bye opt instead to play in the opening round. It’s not yet known if the football tournament will allow for a team eligible for a first-round bye to play an opening-round game. Even if it did, would coaches of highly-seeded teams risk potential injuries or upsets by playing instead of taking the bye?
Like the rest of 2020, there is no playbook for what the OHSAA is attempting to do with the playoffs this fall. Ohio’s governing body for high school sports is sailing in uncharted waters, which pretty well sums up the past seven months.
The good news is officials are trying their best to provide athletes the opportunity that so many were denied last winter and spring — a chance to play for a championship. In this case, the OHSAA is offering that chance to everyone instead of the chosen few.