MEDINA, Ohio — The sparkle of the Friday night lights laced with the cheers from crowded stands is what was missed in 2020 for Ohio high school football. Now, it's back.
"It is football playoff time," Tom Stried with the Ohio High School Athletic Association said Friday.
For 20 years, only eight qualifying teams per region advanced to the postseason, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortened schedule last year, every team was eligible for the playoffs.
Now in 2021, officials have added an extra round, with the number of schools per region doubling from eight to 16.
"We were already planning in expanding the playoffs to twelve [per region]," Stried said. “Now, the top 16 get in."
There are seven divisions with four regions each across the state, meaning 448 teams made the postseason across the 28 regions. The move to expand the brackets has received mixed reviews with some looking for a motive, speculating money was the root of the decision.
However, Stried denies financial implications played any role in the move.
"The revenue aspect of expanding the playoffs was not a factor," he claimed.
A year ago, fans were not allowed to attend games, which meant no ticket sales, no concessions, no parking. With most restrictions now gone, Stried says the schools get a stipend for hosting games, but ticket revenues go to the athletic association.
"Is it more revenue for the OHSAA? Sure," he said. "It's more revenue for the hosting schools, too. The host school also keeps any concession stands that they sell, and they get to charge for parking."
In the first two rounds, the highest-ranking qualifying teams host the lower-ranking teams.
3News selected a Northeast Ohio first-round matchup at random, and eventually chose Medina against Shaker Heights. The Battling Bees are 10-0 and seeded second in Division I's Region 1, while the Red Raiders are 15th at 3-6.
We sat down with parents from both teams, both of whom have seniors playing in their last season of high school football.
"We are excited," we are excited to have another week of play," Amy Geisler, mother of senior Shaker Heights kicker Daniel Geisler, said.
"I don’t want it to end," Tom Delac, whose son Andrew is a defensive end for Medina, added. "I want him to keep playing."
Both parents agreed it's nice to allow players more playing time, but they know the match up has its pros and cons.
"It's going to be a tough game," Geisler said, and her prediction proved true: Medina won 54-0.
"As [a top] seed, [it's] a nice warm-up for some more challenging teams," Delac remarked.
For some, there are concerns some matchups could feel like a battle between David and Goliath, with David this time getting the short end. In D-I's Region 4, there was even an 0-10 team in Oak Hills playing top-seeded Archbishop Moeller in Cincinnati, leading some to question if these games diminish not only the competitive nature of the playoffs, but the regular season, too.
When asked if some of these affairs that seem so lopsided on paper could truly be considered playoff games, Stried said they are "by definition." He added that all of the OHSAA's other sports already invite all teams to the postseason, even if they are winless.
"Our philosophy is more participation," Stried declared, "not less participation."
But football is different from most other sports, and expanding to 16-team regions means there is one additional game that could pose a risk of injury for any player. In addition, teams that go on to the state championships could potentially play 16 games without a week off all season.
When asked if playing a lopsided game is worth it, parents we spoke to said yes, adding there's always a risk when players step on the field. Stried also claims there was no spike in injuries when the OHSAA expanded its regions to eight teams decades ago.
While there were plenty of blowouts, there was some notable upsets in Northeast Ohio Friday night: Over in Division VI's Region 14, 16-seed Milan Edison shocked No. 1 Bellevue 23-22, earning the Chargers a date with No. 9 Perkins in the second round.