New, expanded OHSAA football playoff format debuts this fall

COLUMBUS — As high school football season gets underway this week, more teams will be eligible for postseason play this fall thanks to a new, expanded playoff format.

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On the heels of last year’s Ohio High School Athletic Association playoff format that saw every team become eligible to play in the state tournament, the 2021 playoff will see the top 16 schools in each region qualify for postseason play.

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The expanded playoffs will increase the number of teams playing postseason football across all divisions from 224 to 448, according to an OHSAA spokesperson. Last year, 709 schools played 11-man football.

The previous format adopted by OHSAA in 1999 called for only eight teams per region would qualify. The organizing body had plans to expand the playoff already, agreeing in 2020 to expand to 12 teams with the top four seeds in each region receiving byes, starting in 2021. But the new 16-team per region format will now replace that plan.

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The expansion of the playoffs to 16 teams per region will not add a week to the season and only eliminates the byes for the top seeds, the OHSAA spokesperson said.

Matchups will be based on seeding, similar to the NCAA basketball tournament with the top seed playing the 16th seed, second seed playing the 15th, and so on.

The higher seeded teams will host games in both the first and second round of the playoffs. Games will be played at neutral sites starting with regional quarterfinals,

“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,” OHSAA Executive Director Doug Ute said in a media release.

“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 OHSAA sport in which not every team automatically qualifies for the postseason.”

The 2021 playoffs will start Oct. 29 and 30 with Division I, II, III, and IV playing on Friday nights. Division V, VI, VII schools will play Saturday nights.

State championships will be played December 2-5 at a site that has not yet been determined.

Playoff-eligible teams will continue to be selected through the Harbin computer rankings, however the OHSAA is looking to add a strength of schedule component to the rankings. If approved the strength of schedule component would be added in 2022.