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 a music degree from Ohio State University.


Forget about the old adage that ‘less is more’, the OHSAA has blessed a proposal from the Ohio football coaches to expand the playoffs from eight to twelve teams per region, starting in 2021.  The question I have is…really, whose idea was it?

Immediately upon hearing last week that the OHSAA had sanctioned the long-feared expansion of the high school football playoffs from eight to twelve teams per region, I got on the phone to no fewer than a half dozen friendly football coaches across the state, including three from within fifteen miles of my house.

My question to each of them:  “The Board of Directors said it was proposed by the Ohio football coaches.  So do you agree with expanding the playoffs?”

The reason I asked was simply this.  Since the inception of Press Pros in 2010 I have taken the opposite view of the football playoffs…that there are too many teams in it as it is – too many blowout games in the first round between #1 seeds playing #8.

The playoffs take too long to culminate in an eventual champion, an additional five weeks of playoff football for teams that make it to the ultimate game…when it could be over in three if you started out with the four best teams per region, instead of eight.  In the old days the thing was decided by Thanksgiving, leaving some open space before the start of high school basketball season.

I have other reasons, as I’ve shared previously since 2010.  But back to the present, I asked each of the coaches I called.  “Is this a good idea…to expand from eight teams per region to twelve?”

Without exception, every one of the six said, “I was actually neutral about it.  I can see it both ways.”

Neutral?  You mean like Switzerland?

Translation:  “If my team is one of the four extra teams they add…I’m all for it.”

But one tempered his statement with this:  “I’m still proud that you have to earn your way into the playoffs, unlike basketball, where everyone gets in.  That’s what sets football apart.”

Well it used to be that way, but not so much anymore.

Without getting too far into the details, the OHSAA endorses the proposal by instituting first week byes for the four top-seeded teams, letting the added four teams duke it out with the middle seeds before someone plays the top teams in the second week of the playoffs.  The idea, according to coaches and the OHSAA…more teams and more kids get to experience the thrill of the state playoffs.

Of course, even if one of those added four teams does happen to get by the first week they know…that Marion Local, or Kirtland, or Clinton-Massie, or LaSalle waits on Week 2, and they’re likely to get beaten, and beaten soundly.  Something like, oh…49-7, with a running clock.  But at least they had the experience of being in the playoffs, and they got a T-shirt.

The cumulative record of the #9 thru #12 teams last year, all divisions, was just over .500.

All of this, of course, flies in the face of coaches who’ve always told me how much the integrity of the playoffs means to them – that earning your way in part.  But consider, in Division VI, Region 24, there were 26 teams in that region last year, so about half would qualify for the playoffs in 2021, if nothing changes.  It’s not earning your way, it’s a different take on redistributing of the wealth.  Sound familiar?

As to the wealth, the one body who stands to benefit the most might would surely be the Ohio High School Athletic Association, which in an article published by The Athletic last week was characterized as being on “the precipice of financial ruin”, as written by Tom Reed and Aaron Portzline.  “A confluence of bad luck, poor planning, and dwindling attendance”, compounded by “the lingering threat of the coronavirus has brought to question whether the state’s governing body can withstand a fall season without football.”

The OHSAA, by Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass’s own admission, lost somewhere in the range of $2 million dollars in the spring with the cancellation of the wrestling championships, and the boys and girls state basketball tourneys.  It doesn’t take the secretary of the US Treasury to figure out that expansion of the football tournament – the crown jewel of the OHSAA championships – thereby bringing in more teams from different communities, might help mitigate the financial burden cited by Reed and Portzline.

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But the conflicts.

More, in this context, is almost certainly less from the standpoint of competitive balance.  Many rightly claim that football is already watered down by the addition of Division VII five years ago, and to use the example of Region 26, Division VII, from last year, the cumulative record of the #9,10,11, and 12 team was just one game over .500…20-19.

I’m not the only one who has questioned if more football is a good thing, considering that competitive football is already a year-round commitment.

There are those coaches who would welcome ‘spring’ football to give athletes additional developmental time, thereby increasing their chances for college recruitment.  Of course, spring football might gut the other spring sports for the sake of available athletes, but football is the cash cow for almost every one of the 700 Ohio schools that play 11-man football.  So if something else has to fall on its sword it’s just the price of playing poker.

At least two of the coaches I spoke with last week admitted that making the playoffs is no guarantee of winning the playoffs…but the additional practice time is a huge benefit for the following year.  Many cite Marion Local’s record of consistency to support this theory.  And in fact, there are those so obsessed by football that one administrator from football-crazy Ironton (Lawrence County) once claimed his community would support playing a 4th of July double-header…if it could!

And to the question of safety?  There has always been a question in my mind, as well as others, regarding how much football wear and tear a 17-year-old can take, given that the NFL season is 16 games long and all we hear is the toll that it takes on grown, mature men at their physical peak.  So honestly, which is it…more football or a genuine concern over the well being of adolescent athletes?

One coach did admit…”that at least half of my kids have had enough by the time week ten rolls around”, meaning, perhaps, that the playoff experience might not be nearly as coveted as the OHSAA Board of Directors claimed.  Expansion would amount to 112 additional teams, and based on last year’s results, those teams would qualify with a cumulative record of just over .500, all divisions.

Who benefits?  More teams, more games, more tickets, more cash…you do the math.

The extra 112 teams?  They get a T-shirt.

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