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High school football: Area coaches weigh pros and cons of playoff expansion to 336 teams in 2021

Akron Beacon Journal — Michael Beaven Akron Beacon Journal

May 23--Playoff expansion in high school football is coming to Ohio in 2021, and with it comes discussion on the pros and cons.

Hudson coach Jeff Gough is a fan of the change, and Stow coach Tom Phillips is not.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors voted unanimously to expand the playoffs from eight schools per region to 12 beginning in the 2021 season on Wednesday after the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association proposed the idea.

The expansion will increase the number of football playoff qualifiers from 224 to 336 over seven divisions. Last year, there were 709 schools in Ohio that played 11-man football.

"I absolutely love it," Gough said. "I think that this is progress. Years ago, there were only four teams that made it in [a region], and before that, even less. I want every single kid in high school football to have the chance to prove themselves in the playoffs.

"In my opinion, it makes the regular season so exciting because now we can schedule anybody, anywhere. We can create these new rivalries and we don't have to be thinking about computer points, projections and school sizes."

Hudson made the Division II playoffs last season, its 12th appearance, as the fifth seed in Division II, Region 5.

Stow, a playoff team in six seasons, missed a Week 11 game by finishing ninth in Division I, Region 1.

Phillips is apprehensive to a larger playoff field because it could lead to more injuries, lopsided scores and water down the postseason.

"I am not a fan of the playoff expansion," Phillips said. "I think we are in an era right now that everyone needs a trophy. I was coaching when it was four [per region made the playoffs], then it is eight and now it will be 12. I am not a fan of that.

"... The beauty of football is that it is different than any other sport. You have got to earn a playoff spot. I think eight was plenty."

The 2021 playoffs will feature a first-round bye for the top four seeds in each region. The No. 12 seed will play at the No. 5 seed, No. 11 at No. 6, No. 10 at No. 7 and No. 9 at No. 8.

"The expansion of the playoffs will be very exciting for additional student-athletes, schools and communities," Barberton coach Tony Gotto said. "It will give more schools opportunities to experience the excitement that come with the playoffs, and I think that is good for the game of football.

"... The negative side, because we don't know, is that bye week for the top four seeds in each region. How will that bye week look? I think when you have teenagers off schedule, you could have issues, but there are some cool things you could do too like go on a retreat for the weekend and do some type of team bonding."

Barberton finished ninth in Division II, Region 6, which snapped a streak of three playoff appearances in a row. North Canton Hoover, Ravenna and Revere also missed the playoffs 2019 after finishing ninth in a region.

"It is such a huge deal to play in Week 11," said coach Tim Tyrrell, who led Archbishop Hoban to state titles in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The 2019 playoffs also included Aurora, Brecksville, Canton McKinley, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, Hudson, Jackson, Manchester, Massillon, Medina, Mogadore, Orrville, Perry, Rootstown, Streetsboro, St. Vincent-St. Mary, Wadsworth and Wooster.

Tyrrell likes the expansion for several reasons, including the excitement the playoffs can generate in more communities, and that it will allow more teams in that go 7-3 or 6-4 after playing a difficult regular season schedule.

"Another thing is that college coaches don't really start recruiting at games live until the playoffs," Tyrrell said. "A lot of kids get more recruiting opportunities when you are in the playoffs compared to just playing 10 weeks and everything is based on film."

East went 1-1 in the Division III playoffs in 2016 and 2018, and then finished 12th in its region in 2019.

"On any given Friday or Saturday, you just never know what can happen in a high school football game" East coach Marques Hayes said. "Adding opportunities for teams to get in, I think that can be a good thing."

Buchtel coach Ricky Powers is also in favor of playoff expansion.

"A lot of teams that would not have gotten in before, I think you will start to see them beat the teams up top because a lot of us are not making it because we play such a strong schedule, and we compete," said Powers, who as a running back helped Buchtel win Division II state championships in 1987 and 1988.

The OHSAA football playoffs began in 1972 with 12 qualifiers (four schools in each of three classes). Expansion first came in 1980 with a change to five divisions with eight teams each (40 total qualifiers). A sixth division was added in 1994 (96 qualifiers), there was an increase to eight schools per region in 1999 (192 qualifiers), ans a seventh division was added in 2013 (224 qualifiers).

"I watch the high school kids, and they get so excited to make the playoffs," Tyrrell said. "It is a huge opportunity for them and it is a success. I think it is all positive, but I do see the old school mentality, where it is 'Hey, you're watering it down and letting in too many teams.' That might happen, where a bad team in a bad region gets in, but more often than not it is a good team that got left out when you're looking at those 9, 10, 11 and 12 teams that are all less than a tenth of a point away."

Michael Beaven can be reached at mbeaven@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ.

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