(Updated at 4:08 p.m.)
COLUMBUS -- The Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors unanimously (9-0) approved a plan this morning to return Division I football to four regions effective this upcoming season.
The OHSAA sent a survey to all 72 Division I schools and received 64 responses - 65 percent were in favor statewide, according to Assistant Commissioner Beau Rugg.
The proposal for four regions originated from the OHSAA tournament review committee with input from the state coaches' association.
Of note, only 22 of Ohio’s 88 counties currently have a Division I football school, thus Division I will have three split counties (Cuyahoga, Franklin and Montgomery) in order to equally place 18 teams into each region. In Divisions II through VII, the OHSAA draws regional boundaries so that all teams within a county that are in the same division are kept in the same region.
“Back in 2013, we had initially talked about having four regions for Division I, but at that time we thought that since there was a smaller number of teams in Division I, that might lend itself better to having just two regions,” Rugg said. “But with only two regions the last three years, the increased travel and lack of emphasis on the regional championship game wasn’t always well received.”
The new format in Division I will be included in the 2016 football tournament regulations that will be voted on by the Board of Directors at its next meeting June 2. Any other proposed changes to the tournament regulations will also be acted upon by the Board in June.
Fairview athletic director Paul Yunker, president of the state coaches' association, said the majority of the Division I coaches he spoke with were happy with the change. Fairview is located in northwest Ohio.
Conversely, most Cincinnati area coaches this week told WCPO.com they preferred the two regions.
Another discussion item this week with the OHSAA Board of Directors was the possibility of playing all playoff football games in the seven divisions on Friday nights. Yunker said smaller northern schools were in favor of the proposal while larger schools were not. Yunker said the OHSAA has the final say and will do what is in their best financial interest.
Friday night playoff games are still in the discussion stage and the Board may take an action at its June 2 meeting.
The Division I playoff system has been divided into two regions comprised of 16 teams each since the OHSAA added a seventh division in 2013.
OHSAA Commissioner Dan Ross told a media gathering Tuesday in Columbus that the OHSAA looked favorably on the proposal's organization for setting up a true regional final again.
The OHSAA has also said four regions would also alleviate possible transportation issues in the first round that the current two-region format presents.
There will be 18 Division I teams in the Cincinnati area. That is different from the 36 teams in the regional pool from 2013-15 and 32 teams from 2006-12.
The previous format of two regions of 16 teams each included the state semifinal, which also has been known as the regional final the past three seasons.
Eight qualifiers out of 18 schools for the proposed format would equal 44 percent again.
Several Cincinnati-area coaches expressed concern over the return to four regions - arguing other parts of the state may not have as difficult of a time as Southwest Ohio in reaching the playoffs or significantly advancing.
All six other divisions in football use the four regions.
The tournament regulations for fall sports are most commonly brought to the board of directors at its June meeting. This year’s meeting is June 2 — the first day of the state softball and baseball tournaments.
The OHSAA moved up a potential vote to April on the regions discussion due to the widespread interest.
WCPO.com first reported March 17 the OHSAA was considering an increase in the number of regions in Division I football. The board of directors met at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus March 18 and agreed to go forward with the discussion.
Full high school football practice officially begins Aug. 1 with games scheduled to start the week of Aug. 22.
2016 OHSAA Football Division I Schools by Region
Brunswick, Dublin Jerome, Elyria, Findlay, Lewis Center Olentangy, Powell Olentangy Liberty, Lewis Center Olentangy Orange, Lorain, Marysville, Medina, Newark, North Royalton, Parma, Strongsville, Toledo Start, Toledo Whitmer, Westerville Central, Westerville South
Austintown-Fitch, Berea-Midpark, Canton GlenOak, Canton McKinley, Cleveland Heights, Cleveland John Marshall, Cleveland Rhodes, Cleveland St. Ignatius, Cuyahoga Falls, Euclid, Lakewood, Lakewood St. Edward, Massillon Jackson, Mentor, North Canton Hoover, Shaker Heights, Solon, Stow-Munroe Falls
Beavercreek, Columbus Westland, Dublin Coffman, Gahanna Lincoln, Grove City, Grove City Central Crossing, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby, Hilliard Davidson, Huber Heights Wayne, Kettering Fairmont, Lancaster, Pickerington Central, Pickerington North, Reynoldsburg, Springfield, Thomas Worthington, Upper Arlington
Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller, Cincinnati Colerain, Cincinnati Elder, Cincinnati Oak Hills, Cincinnati St. Xavier, Cincinnati Sycamore, Cincinnati Western Hills, Centerville, Clayton Northmont, Fairfield, Hamilton, Lebanon, Liberty Township Lakota East, Mason, Middletown, Milford, Springboro, West Chester Lakota West