By DAVE HANNEMAN
The way Andy Schafer tells it, timing played a big role in the questionnaire that came across his desk from the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association.
“I think they asked me at the right time,” Schafer said of a poll conducted by the OHSFCA asking high school coaches their thoughts on expanding the prep football playoffs.
“In our region last year, the way it worked out we were just short of the playoffs. I thought we were playing our best football at the end of the year; we won five of our last six games with a running clock and were (Northwest) Conference co-champions, but didn’t make the playoffs.
“When they asked the coaches, through a poll done by the coaches association, about expanding the playoffs, I voted for it. I thought it was a heck of a good idea.”
A majority of the high school football coaches across the state must have felt so too, and on Wednesday, the OHSAA Board of Directors voted unanimously to expand the playoffs from eight schools per region to 12 beginning with the 2021 season.
In 2018, Columbus Grove went 7-3 in 10 regular season games, won an NWC co-championship, finished fourth in the Division VI, Region 22 computer rankings, and hosted a first-round playoff game.
Last season, Columbus Grove went 7-3 in 10 regular season games and again shared the NWC championship. But the Bulldogs missed the playoffs after finishing 11th in the Region 23 computer rankings.
“We were playing well. It would have been good for us to get in,” Schafer said.
When Carey won the Class A state championship in 1975, the OHSAA playoff system featured 12 schools in three divisions (A, AA, AAA). When McComb won the Division VII title in 2018, the OHSAA playoff system included 224 qualifying teams in seven divisions.
McComb also won a Division V state title in 1983, Fostoria captured Division II championships in 1991 and 1996, Columbus Grove won a Division VI title in 2003, Hardin Northern was Ohio’s Division VI state champion in 2004 and Patrick Henry claimed the Division V crown a year later.
For every success story, though, there were the near-misses.
Findlay, for example, fell one spot short of making the Division I playoffs in both 2019 and 2017. The Trojans finished ninth in the Region 2 computer rankings both years.
Pandora-Gilboa was ninth and Arcadia 10th in the Division VII, Region 26 rankings last season, and Van Buren was ninth and Carey 10th in the Division VI, Region 22 rankings in 2016. In 2015, Liberty-Benton (Div. V, Region 16), Bluffton (Div. VI, Region 22) and Pandora-Gilboa (Division VII, Region 24) all fell one spot shy of making the playoffs.
In a bit of an ironic twist to the playoffs, Northwood in Division V and Gibsonburg in Division VI both went 10-0 last season, and neither compiled enough points to qualify for the playoffs in their region.
Expanding the playoffs would make it extremely unlikely any 10-0 team would not advance. But there are added perks, according to area coaches.
“Change is change. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not,” said Liberty-Benton coach Tim Nichols.
“When this was first introduced to coaches, I know there was some talk that expanding the playoffs might water it down. You may see some schools getting in that are 5-5 or 4-6, but I don’t think it’s watered down.
“I think every year there are always those schools that are very deserving but end up being in that ninth spot or that 10th spot. There are always going to be what-ifs, but I was in favor of it (expanding). We’ll see how it works out, but one thing making the playoffs does is generate a lot of excitement and get more communities involved, and that’s always good.”
Not all areas coaches were in agreement, however.
“I’ll be honest, when they sent it out and asked our opinion, I voted against it,” said Ottawa-Glandorf coach Ken Schriner.
“To me the honor of making the playoffs after an 8-2, 7-3 season is pretty special. Also, the possibility of taking away from our preseason I don’t think is the best avenue, either. We work pretty hard to get our kids in shape and if we lose part of that, it puts a heck of a lot more pressure on your spring and your summer.”
Schriner was also concerned what adding another round to the playoffs would do to a season he feels is already long enough.
“In high school now, to win a state championship would take 16 weeks. Colleges don’t even play 16 weeks,” Schriner said.
“I thought 15 weeks was awful long — though I’d sure like to try it sometime.”
Schriner saw some positives to expansion as well.
“If you’re fortunate enough to be one of the top four teams (in each region), you get the opportunity to rest your guys going into the playoffs, and after a 10-game season it’s awful nice to be able to heal some of those bumps and bruises,” he said.
“Making the playoffs, that’s special for the school and the community, too. There’s the possibility of eight schools hosting a playoff game (four first round, four second), so there’s revenue to be made for those schools as well.
“You can look at it from a lot of different angles.”