Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has dual degrees in music from Ohio State University.

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The OHSAA announced Thursday that it would expand the 2021 high school football playoffs, and not by a little.  Apparently, some actual football people are not on board.

“We got blindsided,”  said a football coach contact from outside the area by phone on Friday night.  I don’t think anyone saw this coming, beyond the discussion about expansion to the twelve teams from last year.

“A lot of us feel that this is irresponsible, that it weakens high school football by creating unfair matchups between top seeds and bottom seeds.  Frankly, they say they do it for the sake of the kids…but no one really believes that.”

That was just one statement made following the OHSAA announcement Thursday that the high school football playoff format will be expanded from the present eight teams per region to sixteen, beginning this fall.

And apparently, it was something they decided without following the suggestions of the Ohio High School Football Coaches Board of Directors, who issued the following statement posted on Twitter Friday morning.

The decision by the OHSAA to expand to a 16 team playoff format is met with complete dismay by the OHSFCA.  The OHSAA failed to work in good faith with our association.  The OHSFCA worked for over two years to create a viable expansion of the playoff system.  The OHSFCA approved this expansion in the spring of 2020 for the 2021 season.  We are extremely disappointed in yesterday’s vote by the OHSAA without consulting the OHSFCA.  It is abundantly clear that this decision is financially motivated.  The OHSFCA remains committed to working with the OHSAA and anyone else who is committed to maintaining the high standards of Ohio High School Football.  –  The Ohio High School Football Coaches Board of Directors

Some spoke on the record, some did not.  Two coaches that we contacted both had the same opinion – that this was a decision brought on by a “desperate move for money”, sharing “that the risks outweigh the rewards.”  There will be risks to the well-being of kids, as well as the standard of competition that all OHSFCA coaches endorse with Ohio High School football.

Another, who did not request anonymity: “It’s just my opinion, and you’re allowed to have an opinion,”  added ex-Minster coach Geron Stokes.  “This is going to create some terrible matchups, like a Pickerington vs. Westland.”  Stokes just took the head football coaching position at Dublin Coffman in the Ohio Capital Conference.

“It’s the physical disparity that would concern me.  It’s not like basketball or another sport dictated by skill.  This is a man-on-man kinda’ thing and one of those men is going to be at significant disadvantage.”

In the minds of those we contacted was concern for the future of football, already under fire for increasing concerns over safety…and the year-long involvement with the sport on the part of kids and families to remain competitive…and safe!

“More is not better, or even good for some kids,”  said one from southern Ohio.   “Not at $12 a ticket, or whatever they charge now.  They’re going to create games that should not be played – a #15 or #16 team playing a #1 or #2 seed.”

“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.”  – bOHSAA Executive Director Doug Ute.

In its official statement, the OHSAA pretty much based the decision on the fact of inclusion, but characterized it as expanded opportunity.

“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,”  said OHSAA Executive Director Doug Ute in a statement on the OHSAA website.

But what we heard from the heartland was justification for the pursuit of revenue…and a complete disregard for the Ohio Football Coaches Association.

“You can use my name, but I’d rather you didn’t,”  added another.  “There’s so much wrong with this.  One, it’s a big blow to the trust of administration at all levels.  Two, those people say they work for the sake of kids, but this amounts to kids working for them.  Three, it’s going to create bad football games that no one but parents would pay to see.”

The OHSAA took a huge financial hit in 2020 over the cancelling of the OHSAA state tournaments in wrestling, boys and girls basketball, and this past season from protocols dictating limited ticket sales for all tournaments.

“I’m not P-O’d about it,”  says Coldwater’s Chip Otten.  “But the season is already long, and this makes it longer.  Sixteen games to determine a champion amounts to an NFL season.  That’s a lot of football games, and there’s going to be a lot of bad football games in those first two rounds, just like last year.

“If there were four divisions, like there used to be, you’d have more and better competition per region.  But there’s too many divisions now and not enough teams for good competition in all the regions.”

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Which Geron Stokes spoke about when we contacted him on Friday morning.

“I’m opposed to it,”  he said.  “This is not a good thing for high school football.  There’s really no reason, except one, to expand the playoffs.”

“It is abundantly clear that this decision is financially motivated,”  the OHSFCA wrote in its Twitter release posted this morning (April 23).

Which, in the truest tradition of marketing knowing no limits allows for some interesting new twists.  For years they’ve sold T-shirts in school districts that proudly read State Football Playoffs, and the year that a particular school participated.

Now with concerns over bad matchups and safety between #1 and #16 seeds, those T-shirts might read:  I Broke My Collarbone In The 2021 Playoffs.

But what an opportunity!

 

 

 

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