Bubba Kidwell can see both points of view concerning the high school football playoffs expanding from eight to 12 teams in each region beginning in the 2021 season.
The New Albany coach saw his team go 7-3 last season and narrowly miss the Division I, Region 3 playoffs. The Eagles finished 10th in the region, two spots behind the final playoff qualifier, Westerville Central.
“Last year, we were probably playing our best football at the end of the year and we just missed out on the playoffs,” said Kidwell, who was an assistant with New Albany for 14 seasons before taking over the program in 2018. “In that regard, it’s nice to have 12 teams, but it does dilute (the playoffs) a little bit. Having more teams will bring more money, too, and I am sure that’s why it’s being done. I understand (the Ohio High School Athletic Association wants) to get more teams involved, but I’m on the fence.”
On May 20, the OHSAA board of directors unanimously approved the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association’s expansion proposal by a 9-0 vote.
In all four regions in each of the seven divisions, the top 12 teams will qualify for the playoffs, with the top four receiving a first-round bye. The higher-seeded teams will have the opportunity to play at home in the first two rounds.
Unlike Kidwell, many coaches have a well-defined opinion on the expansion, which will increase the number of playoff qualifiers from 224 to 336. The OHSAA added a seventh division in 2013 after there had been six divisions since 1994.
“Being in the top four and having a bye is a huge advantage,” Westerville South coach Matthew Christ said. “Getting into the playoffs and being able to sit a week depending how banged up you are after 10 weeks is a big-time advantage.”
In the new format, the first round will feature the 12th seed at the fifth seed, the 11th seed at the sixth seed, the 10th seed at the seventh seed and the ninth seed at the eighth seed. In the second round, the top seed will play the 8-9 winner, the second seed will play the 7-10 winner, the third seed will play the 6-11 winner and the fourth seed will play the 5-12 winner.
“When I was at Centerburg in 2003, we made the playoffs for the first time and there was nothing like what it does to a school and community,” said Hartley coach Brad Burchfield, who guided his current program to state titles in 2010, 2015 and 2016. “We didn’t even know how to make (game) programs for it, but it was an incredible experience. It was like we had won a state title.”
Olentangy coach Mark Solis will take over for Burchfield as president of the Central Ohio Football Coaches Association this fall. His Braves finished sixth in Division II, Region 7 last season, going 5-5 in the regular season and winning two games in the playoffs before losing to Toledo Central Catholic 35-14 in the regional final.
He believes the later regular-season games will have a different feel for more teams, starting in 2021.
“I think it’s going to give a lot more teams a lot more to play for toward the latter part of the season, Weeks 8, 9 and 10,” Solis said. “We are a great example of entering the tournament, you can’t put a lot of stock in somebody’s record like we’ve had the last two years. You get a chance to get into the tournament and anything can happen.”
The OHSFCA sent the expansion proposal to coaches across the state in October.
“When it was first brought up, I was a little hesitant,” said Hilliard Davidson coach Jeremey Scally, who coached Upper Arlington last season. “I thought we had a good system, so what’s the point in tweaking it? The more I thought about it I saw the pluses that came with it as well. When I saw that (the proposal) went through, I think my needle definitely pointed toward it being a good thing.”
Dublin Jerome coach Bob Gecewich thinks the new format would tarnish the regular season if teams with losing records receive playoff berths.
“It’s a travesty,” he said. “The regular season should mean something. If we make the playoffs with a losing record, I will tell the (school) administration that we don’t want to play. I can’t see a positive.”
Walnut Ridge coach Byron Mattox said the expansion has been a long time coming.
“I’ve been talking about expansion for years,” he said. “I wish this would have been done 10 to 15 years ago.
“We’re in a league (the City League-South Division) that has a Division VI or Division VII team (Africentric) and you miss out on points in your own league. There have been several 8-2 and 7-3 seasons that we missed the playoffs by a fraction of points. Overall, (the expansion) is a good thing. Better late than never.”