The recent decision by the Ohio High School Athletic Association to expand its high school football playoffs drew reactions that ranged from applause to disapproval to suggestions to just put everybody into the playoffs.
The OHSAA’s plan, which will take effect for the 2021 season, will raise the number of teams in each region who qualify for the playoffs to 12. Currently, eight teams from each region get into the playoffs.
Next season, 224 teams will play in the postseason. In 2021, there will be 336. Many more high school athletes will get to experience the playoffs. But there also will be more teams with unimpressive or even sub-.500 records in the playoffs.
Football is the only team sport in Ohio in which every team isn’t automatically eligible for the postseason tournaments
But 48 of the 50 states don’t invite every team to the playoffs. Indiana and Missouri are the only two states where every football team gets in regardless of its record.
Former Kenton coach Mike Mauk knows about the playoffs in Ohio. The Wildcats won state championships in 2001 and 2002, were state runner-up in 2003 and 2011 and made 10 trips to the playoffs with him as their coach.
And he knows the Missouri way of doing things as the head football coach at Glendale High School in Springfield, Missouri since 2014.
Mauk likes Missouri’s system and likes the OHSAA’s latest expansion of the playoffs.
Last season, Glendale finished the regular season with a 4-5 record but got all the way to the state quarterfinals in Division V, the second-largest division in Missouri.
“Here in Missouri we get in every year. At least we have an opportunity to play and compete,” Mauk said.
“Last season I thought we had a pretty good team and were playing our best football (late in the season) and got all the way to the state quarterfinals and lost to the eventual state champion. We were not a great team but we were a good team. We beat a team that had beaten us earlier in the year in the district championship to move on to the state quarterfinals.”
Kenton’s first appearance in the playoffs was in 1998. But Mauk thinks there were earlier Kenton teams who could have been playoff teams if the OHSAA had set a bigger postseason table.
“There were many years back in the ’90s where I felt we had really good football teams that played in a very difficult conference that didn’t get in. We just didn’t have enough computer points or we were in a tough region,” he said.
Looking at the OHSAA’s 2021 expansion, he said, “I think it’s a good proposal. It gives teams who might be on the bubble an opportunity to compete. I think the football coaches association has done a good job of not making it too aggressive but at the same time giving those teams that are potentially capable of playing with a state champion-caliber football team the opportunity to do so.”
One of the reasons all-inclusive playoffs work in Missouri and Indiana is that there are around 300 high schools who play 11-man football in each of those states. Ohio has 702 high schools with football teams in seven divisions.
So, if every team in Ohio suited up for the postseason, it probably would lead to several more divisions being created or an even longer football season.
It almost certainly would bring a nine-game regular season, which both Missouri and Indiana have.
One of the concerns raised about the 2021 expansion of the Ohio playoffs is that some teams could play 16 games if they are a No. 5 seed or lower and make it all the way to the state championship game.
Starting in 2021 the top four teams in the final computer points rankings will get a first-round bye, which means they would play 15 games if they advance all the way to the state championship game.
That’s still a lot of games. But if a No. 5 seed or lower gets to the championship game, they will play 16 games.
Think that would never happen? Two of the 14 teams in last year’s Ohio state championship games were No. 5 seeds or lower and two No. 5 or lower teams were there in 2018.
Is having high school kids play more games than college football’s national champion really a good idea? Is there a point where enough is enough in the expansion of the high school football playoffs?