Jackson's Budd weighs in on expanded football playoffs

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
The Jackson Polar Bears rush onto the field against rival Hoover on Oct. 2, 2020.

JACKSON TWP.  – When the Ohio High School Athletic Association recently announced that it would expand the football playoffs, casual fans may have expected an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the move.

There has been, to be sure, some of that expected positive response from local players, coaches and administrators, but not everyone is a complete fan of the change. Several local coaches, including Jackson head coach Tim Budd, see both positives and negatives in the equation.

"It didn't surprise me ... the OHSAA is trying to recoup lost money, so it's a money grab," Budd said. "I'm not too worried about it and you know the motivation is money."

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of winter and spring sports championships and seasons last year, the OHSAA did miss out on the revenue from those events. As a result of the pandemic, the regular season for football was shortened in 2020 and all schools regardless of division were allowed to participate in the playoffs if they wanted.

Still, the OHSAA board of directors voting 9-0 to expand the OHSAA football playoffs from eight schools per region to 12 beginning in the 2021 season caught many off guard.

"I think the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association (OHSFCA) was a bit blindsided by it," Budd said of the decision. "You're going to have to change the way you think about the payoffs. There sed to be a sense of euphoria for qualifying, but now it's going to be more like basketball or baseball, where everyone makes the tournament."

Budd noted that in the past, teams celebrated a postseason berth and even had t-shirts made to commemorate the occasion. But now, in Division I – where the Polar Bears play – there are only 16 teams per region, meaning a playoff berth is a virtual certainty at this point. Taking away the specialness of the playoffs is one potential effect of the move, but far from its  only one.

Other coaches in the area have noted the potential for very lopsided matchups in the opening round of the playoffs when a team that could be one of the best in the state could face a squad with only two or three wins. In addition to lopsided scores, those games could feature size, athleticism and strength discrepancies that could lead to injuries.

Those factors could be more pronounced in the remaining six divisions beyond Division I, where there are far more teams and more chances for uneven matchups to occur.

Budd did point to one potential positive of the format change, albeit one that could take time to develop.

"On a positive side, you've gotta think about it differently, but it might give you am opportunity to change your scheduling if you know you're going to make the playoffs," Budd said. "You could schedule yourself up and try to prepare yourself for what you're going to see come playoff time if there's no drawback to losing a game."

He pointed to his time doing the scorebook for basketball earlier in his career, a stint during which he saw regular-season losses have no impact on a team's tournament prospects other than potentially lowering its seed a bit. Now, he pointed out, in football there could be "no drawback to playing anybody and everybody."

Because contracts and schedules for non-league games are often set a year or more in advance, that part of the equation could play out over a more extended period of time. In the present, where playoff spots are currently determined by computer points, that part of the format could change after the OHSAA announced its intent to explore the addition of a strength of schedule provision.

The OHSFCA issued a statement in which its board of directors claimed the OHSAA had failed to act in "good faith" with the coaches in making the change, creating a rift that isn't likely to be repaired quickly or easily. How that plays out is a tough question to answer, but in the present coaches are left to prepare for a season whose context and format have been altered in a major way - whether they agree with it or not.