Expanded football playoffs get mixed reactions

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
The Springfield football program is set to kick its season off Friday against Cloverleaf under first-year head coach Dave Bosko.

SPRINGFIELD TWP. – When the Ohio High School Athletic Association 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 Springfield head coach Dave Bosko see both positives and negatives in the equation.

"The big positive is more kids get to play in the playoffs, but overall, I'm against it," Bosko said. The Ohio High School Football Coaches Association (OHSFCA) was ok with the 12 teams (making the playoffs) experiment that was supposed to happen over the next year or two, where the top four teams get a first round bye, then you have a five seed against a 12 seed and a six seed against an 11 seed, which is more equitable. Realistically, there's no hope for a 14, 15 or 16 seed to beat a first, second or third seed."

Bosko noted that for a team such as perennial Summit County and state power Hoban, which has won five of the last six Division II state titles, plays far tougher competition throughout the regular season than a potential number 15 or 16 seed it would have faced in the first round of the postseason in recent years had the new format been in place.

Like other Suburbanite-area coaches, Bosko sees the OHSAA's motives in making the change as being rooted in financial concerns.

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.

"I think that's a very real concern and I don't know if OHSAA's bottom line in this move is in line with the coaches and administrators who are looking to have the best experience for their kids," Bosko said. "The OHSAA's goal is to make money for themselves and they're trying to convince people it's good for the kids, but if it really is good for the kids, shouldn't have to convince anyone if it's good for the kids."

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.

The Massillon Tigers and Hoban Knights played for the Ohio high school football Division II state championship Friday at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.

Bosko noted that allowing many more teams into the playoffs is a different concept than having all teams in the postseason for less physical sports such as baseball or basketball.

"In a physical sport like football, it's much tougher letting everyone into the tournament and you could have the possibility of bigger mismatches and injuries," Bosko said.

Other coaches in the area have seconded 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.

Bosko said in an ideal world, teams would have the capability to schedule differently based on this new format, but with leagues having their own scheduling procedures in place, it's not always possible to have a rivalry game in Week 10.

Any repercussions for scheduling could play out beyond the coming season. Because contracts and schedules for non-league games are often set a year or more in advance, that part of the equation will likely take place 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.