COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio High School Athletic Association football playoffs will expand to 16 qualifying teams in each region starting this upcoming season.
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 and so on.
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. The expansion to 16 qualifiers per region will increase the number of football playoff qualifiers from 224 to 448.
The first Friday of the regular season is Aug. 20, and the regular season will conclude on Saturday, Oct. 23.
The OHSAA board of directors approved the 2021 football tournament regulations during its April board meeting on Thursday.
“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 statement.
“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 OHSAA board of directors had previously unanimously approved 12 qualifiers per region in May 2020 for the 2021 season.
Last spring, the plan was to increase the number of qualifiers from eight to 12 in 2021. The change at the time was unrelated to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
An OHSFCA survey earlier this month showed that 55% of coaches who voted are in favor of 12 playoff football teams per region for the 2021 season, according to OHSFCA president Brent Fackler. The survey was regarding a preference of 12 or 16 playoff teams per region.
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.
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.
In 2020, there were 709 schools in Ohio that played 11-man football.
The 2020 season was the first time in OHSAA football history that all participating teams were eligible for the postseason since the playoffs began in 1972. The change in the postseason was brought on by the shortened regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The OHSAA had eight qualifying teams per region in four consecutive seasons prior to 2020.
The 2015 season was the most recent time the OHSAA had a different amount of playoff qualifiers in Division I. There were 16 qualifiers in two regions in Division I from 2013 to 2015.