COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors approved the 2021 football tournament regulations Thursday during its April Board meeting that included proposals from the OHSAA staff to increase the number of playoff qualifiers and change the format of the regional playoffs.
The number of playoff qualifiers will expand to 16 schools per region. In addition, the higher seeded team will host first and second round playoff games, instead of only the first round, before neutral sites are used beginning with the regional semifinals. In the first round, the No. 16 seed will play at the No. 1 seed, the No. 15 seed will play at the No. 2 seed, etc.
“Last fall we received overwhelmingly positive feedback when we allowed every team to enter the football playoffs due to the shortened season because of COVID-19,” said Doug Ute, OHSAA Executive Director. “We know there are some who want to keep the football postseason to a smaller number of schools, but the postseason tournament gives such a positive experience for our student-athletes, the schools and their communities that we felt strongly about giving that opportunity to more schools to make the playoffs. And football remains the only OHSAA sport in which not every team automatically qualifies for the postseason.”
The OHSAA is also exploring adding a strength of schedule component to the Harbin computer ratings, which are used to determine the playoff qualifiers. A strength of schedule component could be added in 2022.
The site of the state championship games has not yet been determined, but the format will include one game Thursday, December 2, and two games each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, December 3-5.
During the regional semifinals and regional finals at neutral sites, the higher seeded team will be the designated home team. The OHSAA then determines the sites and matchups for the state semifinals.
The expansion will increase the number of football playoff qualifiers from 224 to 448. Last year there were 709 schools in Ohio that played 11-man football. Since 1999, eight schools in each region have qualified for the playoffs. In May 2020, the OHSAA announced that the football playoffs would expand to 12 teams per region in 2021 and the top four seeds in each region would have a first-round bye. Expanding to 16 schools per region does not add a week to the postseason since it was already now six weeks, it simply eliminates the byes.
During the first five rounds of the playoffs, Division I, II, III and IV schools will play on Friday nights, while Division V, VI and VII schools will play on Saturday nights.
2021 OHSAA Football Playoff Schedule
October 29-30 – First Round at Higher Seeded Teams
November 5-6 – Regional Quarterfinals at Higher Seeded Teams
November 12-13 – Regional Semifinals at Neutral Sites
November 19-20 – Regional Finals at Neutral Sites
November 26-27 – State Semifinals at Neutral Sites
December 2-5 – State Championships, Site TBD, one game Thursday, two games each day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday
The OHSAA football playoffs began in 1972 when only 12 schools qualified for the playoffs (four schools in each of three classes). Expansion first came in 1980 when the OHSAA changed to five divisions with eight teams each (40 total qualifiers). A sixth division was added in 1994 (96 total qualifiers) and the number of qualifiers was increased to eight schools per region in 1999 (192 total qualifiers). A seventh division was added in 2013 to bring the number of qualifiers to 224.
As a reminder, in January the Board approved the general football regulations, which permit schools to fulfill two of the required five acclimatization days in July in advance of official practice beginning on Sunday, August 1. Two scrimmages are permitted between August 6-14, with either or both scrimmages permitted to be jamboree games.
The first Friday of the regular season is August 20, and the regular-season will conclude on Saturday, October 23.
Tim Stried is the Director of Communications for the OHSAA.