Playoff expansion may do more harm than good

Published 12:42 am Saturday, May 30, 2020

When they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.
And maybe some ego, too.
The passage of the new football playoff format that expanded qualifiers to 12 teams per region as opposed to eight seems to be more about just saying you made the playoffs for the teams and making more money for the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
There might be some more competitive games in the first round by eliminating the top four teams, but it could also create more blowouts because teams in that lower level generally don’t belong in the playoffs.
And let’s not use that argument “every team gets to be in the playoffs in all the other sports” because football is a whole different beast.
The OHSAA began with three classifications and only the first-place team in each region qualified. That format left some good teams — maybe better teams — sitting on the sidelines.
The number increased to the top two teams and four divisions, the five divisions and the top four teams, then six divisions, then eight teams per division, then seven divisions and eight teams to the newest format that promises everybody gets a participation trophy.
There were 709 of Ohio’s schools playing football. Last season, 224 teams qualified for the playoffs. With the new format, 336 teams qualify.
Texas has 12 divisions, but the state has 2,813 public schools and 427 private schools throughout 254 counties. Ohio has 88 counties with 1,152 public schools and 208 private schools.
Texas has been qualifying between 50 to 74 percent of the schools, but there has been extensive conversation about limiting the number schools because teams with 0-10 and 1-9 records are making the playoffs.
Kentucky has 443 public high schools and 95 private schools. However, only 218 schools play football and there are six classifications.
Each division has four districts and there are between 33 to 39 schools in each division. Virtually every team qualifies for the playoffs.
Teams basically play the regular season for seeding in their district which is usually 4-to-5 teams. This format creates blowouts in most first round games.
In 2013, Boyd County and Greenup County were part of a five-team district. Both teams were 0-3 in the district when they met and Boyd County won the game 25-21.
Or did they win?
Boyd County used the win to finish 1-9. Greenup County finish 2-8. The win gave Boyd County the playoff berth and a trip to play powerhouse Fort Thomas Highlands.
The final score? Highland 70-6.
Ohio’s playoffs are taking on some of the characteristics of Kentucky’s playoffs.
For Division 1 which has 18 teams in each of its four regions, the expansion means 48 of the 72 teams will make the playoffs instead of 32 of 72 teams. The bigger schools have bigger fan bases which means more ticket sales.
The other six divisions have approximately 107-to-108 teams.
If the new playoff setup was in affect last season, here are the scenarios that would have happened.
Last season in Region 19 of Division 5, teams 9 through 12 had one winning record, two teams at 5-5 and one losing record. Fairland was 6-4, Oak Hill and Johnstown-Monroe 5-5 and Chesapeake 4-6.
The pairings would have had Columbus Academy playing Johnstown, Minford hosts Chesapeake, Fairland at Portsmouth and Oak Hill at Wellston.
There were four teams who played each other in the regular season. Minford beat Chesapeake in week two 54-21 while Portsmouth edged Fairland 20-12.
In Region 24 of Division 6, Coal Grove was No. 20 and would not have been a factor. Three teams had winning records in position 9-12 with No. 12 Jamestown 5-5.
Looking at Region 27 of Division 7, two teams had winning records and two finished 5-5.
Symmes Valley was No. 6 last season and had to play at Shadyside and lost 63-8. Under the new format, the Vikings would have hosted 5-5 Racine Southern.
In comparison, Southern beat South Gallia 39-12 in week six while the Vikings beat South Gallia 14-12 in the season opener.
But none of those scenarios can match what happened to a couple of Kentucky teams who met in the first round of the playoffs several years ago.
One team was 0-10 and was shutout in five games. The players really didn’t want to make the two-hour trip to get blown out, which they did 60-0.
The coach called and had the game time moved up to 6:30 because he promised the players if they would play that week he would feed them at Golden Corral after the game. The players accepted the offer and they chowed down thanks to the early start so they could make the restaurant before it closed.
Frische’s Big Boy might want to keep that buffet bar stocked for the first round of the playoffs this season.
Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.

Email newsletter signup