Saturday, August 8th, 2020
OHSAA to trim football season
By Colin Foster
Will pigskin be played during the pandemic?
If there is a season, it will be a condensed version.
Following a recommendation this week from the governor's office to shorten the season due to concerns that COVID-19 may spike in early winter, the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced that if high school football games are approved by the Gov. Mike DeWine, all teams will enter the playoffs beginning Oct. 9 and the state championship games will be played no later than Nov. 21.
"My biggest takeaway is they have a plan," St. Henry coach Brad Luthman said. "That's given me as much encouragement as any that we might to get to play a Week 1 game."
"I was glad it wasn't a cancelation. I was glad it wasn't pushed back," added Fort Recovery coach and athletic director Brent Niekamp. "I think trying to get games in while we can get games in is really the way to go. I feel like it's a positive because I think the OHSAA is really trying to make sure we have a season, so they're looking at opportunities and ways that we can get in a season with playoffs."
The OHSAA Board of Directors, which assisted OHSAA staff to create the proposal and approved it by a 9-0 vote, considers this a win-win situation for all schools since it will not matter how many games each team has played leading up to the playoffs. Instead of the computer-ratings system determining which teams qualify for the playoffs, the coaches in each region will conduct a tournament-seed meeting the week of Sept. 28 to form the regional bracket, similar to the process in other OHSAA team sports.
According to the OHSAA press release, schools may keep their first six previously scheduled games, but all regular-season football contracts are now voidable by either school, especially in the event that conferences redo their league schedules to fit into the first six weeks. In addition, the OHSAA will determine new playoff regions in September. Schools that are eliminated from the playoffs may continue to schedule regular-season games up until Nov. 14.
Schools that have currently paused sports could still begin their season in September or early October and compete in the playoffs. Schools are not required to enter the playoffs if they would rather play regular-season games up until Nov. 14.
"To both ensure we can offer students the opportunity to participate in education-based athletics but do so with their best interests in mind, we believe this modified plan offers a positive solution by addressing many of the concerns of our member schools," said Jeff Cassella, president of the OHSAA Board of Directors and athletic administrator at Mentor High School. "Those that are able to start their seasons on time will be able to do so. Those that are starting later can still have a season. Add in the option of all schools entering the playoffs and the possibility of schools still being able to play 10 regular season contests, and this plan is helpful to virtually all of our schools."
The highest number of responses to one of the questions posed of superintendents, principals and athletic administrators in a recent OHSAA membership survey indicated that nearly 60% (890 of 1,498 respondents) favored either reducing the regular season and maintaining full OHSAA tournaments or maintaining the full regular season and maintaining full OHSAA tournaments. A decision on spectators at contact sports has not yet been made, but the OHSAA believes that at a minimum parents should be permitted to attend.
Football was one of four contact sports barred from having preseason school vs. school scrimmages by the OHSAA, and the game had always been considered a challenge for competition during the COVID crisis. Still, football teams across the state have been practicing and don't want all that work to be for nothing.
"From all the coaching friends I've talked to, we'd be greatly disappointed if we didn't get to play football or if we don't get to play football," Luthman said. "The other frustration would be if you feel like the people in the leadership positions already know that we're not playing and they're just having us go through two-a-day practices for nothing. We're working our kids hard. Our coaches are working hard, in the heat and everything else. If they already know it's for nothing, then it would just feel like we're getting jerked around. … But this is a very positive step, it feels like, because it feels like they're trying to give us an avenue to play."
Midwest Athletic Conference Commissioner Don Kemper said a meeting has been planned for Monday to discuss this season's schedule.
Additional notes from Friday's announcement:
• Regular-season games will begin the week of Aug. 24 (same regular-season starting date).
• All teams eligible to enter the OHSAA playoffs. New regions will be determined in September.
• Number of playoff rounds dependent upon the number of schools entering the playoffs in each division. Coaches in each region will seed all playoff teams in the region to form a bracket, similar to other OHSAA sports.
• Schools eliminated from the OHSAA playoffs or that choose not to enter the OHSAA playoffs have the option to schedule additional regular season contests through Nov. 14 (maximum of 10 regular season contests permitted).
• Regular season Week 1: Week of Aug. 24
• Playoffs begin Oct. 9
• State finals end no later than Nov. 21
Other Playoff Details
• Playoff seeding will be via a vote by the coaches the week of Sept. 28 (Harbin Ratings suspended for 2020 season)
• All playoff contests through the regional semifinals (and possibly the regional finals) will be hosted by the higher seeded team
• Schools must commit to participate in the playoffs by 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 17
• Playoff regions will be drawn on Sept. 18
• Schools may withdraw from the playoffs without penalty until Sept. 24