Bryce Eisnaugle and several of his teammates on the Canal Winchester High School football team constantly refreshed Twitter on the night of Nov. 2, trying to keep up with the first round of the playoffs.
It was painful in a way, considering that the Indians were one of only two 9-1 teams statewide to be left out because they happened to be in a competitive Division II, Region 7. They would have qualified in each of the other three Division II regions, not to mention three of the four in Division I.
Football is the only sport in Ohio in which all teams do not qualify for the postseason. Eight teams from each of the 28 regions, in Div I-Div VII, make the playoffs. @ThisWeekDave examines the issue in this story, but what do you think of the system? https://t.co/1q7dgz705V— ThisWeek Sports (@ThisWeekSports) November 16, 2018
"We saw how Walnut Ridge competed with Massillon (Washington) in the first round and that Whitehall beat Dover," Eisnaugle said, mentioning the two area teams that finished ahead of Canal Winchester in Region 7. "It hurt that we didn't have that chance. All along, we just focused on the teams ahead of us on our schedule. We couldn't control what we couldn't control. We just had to keep winning and see what happened."
Despite their record, the Indians finished ninth in Region 7, .0247 of a point behind Walnut Ridge, which earned the eighth and final playoff berth. Walnut Ridge and Whitehall, which was fifth in the region, also went 9-1.
The Indians qualified last year in the same region despite going 6-4.
Another rub for Canal Winchester was that if the top 32 teams across the state went to the postseason in Division II, regardless of region, the Indians would have been seeded 20th.
But despite the fact that the most deserving teams don't always make the playoffs, the Ohio High School Athletic Association cautions that change is not forthcoming.
"Our tournaments are about statewide representation, not necessarily the best of the best. That's part of our philosophy," OHSAA director of communications Tim Stried said. "We don't try to manipulate the field to get No. 1 playing No. 2. Over the long haul, it benefits the entire state. We want to make sure the whole state is involved."
A total of 224 teams -- eight teams from each of the 28 regions spanning divisions I to VII -- make the playoffs based on an intricate computer rating system that rewards teams for victories as well as wins earned by the teams they defeat. From 1972 to 1999, four teams advanced per region.
Football is the only sport in the state in which all teams do not make the playoffs. There are 715 teams in Ohio.
According to Stried, another factor in maintaining regions is cost. The OHSAA reimburses schools $4 per mile for playoff travel.
"If it's (Hilliard) Davidson playing (Dublin) Coffman in the first round, we're reimbursing one of those schools, what, about 20 dollars?" Stried said. "If we're in a 32-versus-1 format and you have, say, Portsmouth Clay going (approximately 240 miles) to Defiance Tinora ... you extrapolate that over 112 games, that might bankrupt us or we'd have to stop reimbursing. In the first round, we're only reimbursing one team, but then it's both teams (for neutral-site games) after that. On top of that, you might have a lot fewer fans traveling."
In that scenario, the longest drive for a first-round matchup this season would have been 32nd-seeded Poland Seminary traveling 282 miles to play top-seeded Cincinnati Wyoming in Division IV.
If the top 32 teams made the playoffs regardless of region, 11 in Division I would have come from Region 3, which comprises roughly the southern half of Franklin County as well as the Dayton area. Six teams from Region 2, which goes from Franklin County to Toledo, still would have qualified.
Fourteen Division II teams would have come from Region 7.
Under a top-32 scenario, five central Ohio teams that were left out in the current format would have advanced in Lancaster and Pickerington North from Region 3 and Canal Winchester, New Albany and Northland from Region 7.
Four teams that got in -- Westerville Central (Region 2), Olentangy (Division II, Region 8), Licking Valley (Division IV, Region 15) and Grandview (Division VI, Region 23) -- would have been left out.
Playoff formats vary by state.
In West Virginia, the top 16 teams across the state in classes A, AA and AAA qualify.
In Michigan, every team with at least six wins qualifies, and in Texas, where every team belongs only to a district and leagues do not exist, the top four teams in each of 160 districts spanning 10 divisions advance to the playoffs.
Reynoldsburg coach Buddy White, whose team went 7-3 in 2017 and finished ninth in Region 3 by .05 of a point before becoming the southernmost school in Region 2 this season and earning the top seed, enjoys the geographical representation of the current playoff system.
"I'm in favor of finding out who the best team in central Ohio is," said White, whose team shared the OCC-Ohio Division title with Lancaster and lost to fourth-seeded Olentangy Liberty 10-0 in a regional semifinal Nov. 9 to finish 10-2. "You want great crowds at these games. If you took the top 16 or 32 teams, you might find yourself going all over the place. I think you get more out of high school football when you emphasize local rivalries.
"The bottom line is once everybody is in, you're all 0-0 anyway. Anything goes from there."
Without warning this year, Reynoldsburg found itself on the northern side of the dividing line between regions 2 and 3. Each of the playoff teams in Region 3 this season won at least seven games with the exception of eighth-seeded Huber Heights Wayne, which officially went 6-3 because a 42-6 win over COF Academy did not count in the ratings.
In Region 2, two 5-5 teams and two 6-4 teams cracked the top eight. One of those six-win teams, Liberty, played second-seeded Dublin Coffman in the regional final Nov. 16.
According to Stried, regions are mapped to divide schools as evenly as possible.
"With us this year, it would have been nice just to get in. Travel would not have been a problem. We'd have gone anywhere," said New Albany coach Bubba Kidwell, whose team went 7-3 -- one win better than last year's team that finished as Region 7 runner-up -- but finished 13th in Region 7. The Eagles would have been seeded 29th and visited fourth-seeded Cincinnati Winton Woods in the first round of a 32-team format.
"I'd personally like to see the top 32 teams get in," Kidwell said. "I don't think there's been much talk about changing because getting teams from different areas has been a big emphasis, but you have dotted lines (marking regions) that go right through Franklin County. You could have the top four teams in the state be in one region. The (state semifinalists) might not be the top four teams in the state, and it's one of the things that gets you thinking a little bit."
Eisnaugle said he would be in favor of not only expanding the field to 12 teams per region, but also conference champions earning automatic berths. The Indians went 5-0 in the OCC-Capital to win their first league title since 2012.
"That ought to mean something," Eisnaugle said. "Nothing can take away what we've done the past two years, but not making the playoffs did hurt."