OHSAA reacts to Gibsonburg, Northwood’s playoff dilemma

Press Sports Staff

By Press Sports Staff



The Ohio High School Athletic Association responded to football teams like Gibsonburg and Northwood, which both went 10-0 last year but had no postseason.

Northwood won a Toledo Area Athletic Conference championship and Gibsonburg a Sandusky Bay Conference River Division championship, but neither team earned enough computer points to make the playoffs. The top eight teams in each region qualified for the postseason; the Rangers and Golden Bears were the only 10-0 teams in Ohio to not make the playoffs. That will change in two years.

During its May meeting Wednesday afternoon, the OHSAA Board of Directors voted unanimously to expand the OHSAA football playoffs from eight schools per region to 12 beginning in the 2021 season. The 9-0 affirmative vote was given to a recommendation from the OHSAA staff, which was based on a proposal from the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association. 

It may be little consolation to last year’s Golden Bears or Rangers’ football players, coaches, and fans, but it is an answer. OHSAA director of communications Tim Stried told The Press that Gibsonburg and Northwood’s dilemma was part of the discussion, but not the only reason for the expansion.

“Throughout the various conversations that we had internally and with the state coaches association, that was brought up a few times, but it was not the driving force behind the proposal,” Stried said.

During the first round of the playoffs, the top four seeds will have a bye, while the No. 12 seed will play at the No. 5 seed, No. 11 at No. 6, No. 10 at No. 7 and No. 9 at No. 8. In the second round, the No. 1 seed will play the winner of the 8 vs. 9 game; the No. 2 seed will play the winner of 6 vs. 11; the No. 3 seed will play the winner of 7 vs. 10 and the No. 4 seed will play the winner of 5 vs. 12. 

The 2021 expansion will increase the number of football playoff qualifiers from 224 to 336. Last year there were 709 schools in Ohio that played 11-man football. Football is the only OHSAA team sport in which not every school qualifies for the postseason. 

“We still have details to work out regarding the format and specific season dates, but this vote by the Board gives us the green light to finalize those details for 2021,” said Beau Rugg, Senior Director of Officiating and Sport Management for the OHSAA and the Association’s football administrator. 

Rugg also noted that the football finals in 2021 are expected to end during the same weekend as previously scheduled (Dec. 2-5). Schools will still be permitted to play 10 regular-season contests. 

The higher seeded teams will have the opportunity to host their playoff games during the first and second rounds of the playoffs. 


Saw it coming

Gibsonburg has been a playoff participant eight times, including the previous four years. The Bears are 2-8 all-time in the postseason. 

Last fall, Gibsonburg coach Mike Lee saw the playoff snub coming, even though his team had three All-Ohioans in Division VI. Northwood finished ninth in the same Division V region as qualifiers Oak Harbor and Eastwood. Gibsonburg finished ninth in D-VI, Region 23.

“It was not a shock to us because when we saw the new alignment come out in the summer it was like, ‘Oh boy,’” Lee said. “The big thing was there were like six or seven new teams that we joined up with that were in the playoffs last year, and then you throw the ‘normals’ in there, like us, Fairview, and others — it’s a tough one. It’s got to be the toughest in the state, no doubt about it. 

“This was a very special year for Gibsonburg football. We have no apologies for our schedule and for not making the playoffs,” Lee continued. “Things went well a year (earlier) when we finished second in our region with the same schedule.”

Northwood and Gibsonburg did everything they could to qualify, but their opponents didn’t do them any favors when it came to accumulating valuable computer points. Lee’s squad outscored opponents 425-133 and beat four teams — Ottawa Hills, Mohawk (6-4), Tiffin Calvert (5-4) and Margaretta (5-4) — that finished with winning records. 

Both Gibsonburg and Northwood beat Woodmore, which went 0-10, and two of Gibsonburg’s other wins came against Antwerp (0-10) and Danbury (0-9).

Northwood coach Ken James said the Rangers’ win over Stryker proved to be the deciding factor in not making the playoffs. Stryker, which competes in the state’s smallest division (VII), finished 0-8 and had to forfeit its week 6 game against Cardinal Stritch because of a lack of players.

Northwood and Stryker actually played on a Sunday, with the Rangers cruising to a 65-2 victory.

“It would have helped us if we did not play the Stryker game,” said James, whose 2008 team went 9-1 and didn’t make the playoffs. “We would have been in that sixth slot (in Region 18). Our starters only played five or six plays in that game and it was 47-0 with two minutes to go in the first quarter. We had a running clock in the second quarter. We were fair-catching punts or not fielding them at all. It was not a good game to play.

“For doing the right thing (and not taking a forfeit), we got penalized. There’s nothing we can do about it now. Knowing what I know now, we wouldn’t have played the Stryker game.”

Northwood has finished 10-0 four times in its history, with the last previous 10-0 season coming in 2012. Last year’s team outscored opponents by a 523-152 margin, but only two of its opponents, Edon (7-3) and Ottawa Hills (6-4), finished with winning records. The Rangers played four D-VII teams, three D-VI teams and one D-II team (Columbus Whetstone, which finished 3-7).

Northwood beat two D-V teams in Lake (46-14) and Elmwood (52-40), while Stritch (D-VII) finished with five losses after a 61-24 loss to the Rangers to end the regular season.

“We were pretty confident we were going to get in,” James said. “(Cleveland Heights) Lutheran East beat a 5-4 team, and then they had a no-contest game against Vienna Mathews in week 9, which improved their computer average.”

James said that had Lutheran East (7-2) played the game against Vienna Mathews, Northwood would have gotten the No. 6 position in Region 18 instead of the Falcons. Northwood has been in the playoffs 10 times, including two years ago, and has a 1-10 record.

James added that winning the TAAC championship was “a huge deal.”

“Winning a league title is in our control,” he said. “That was a huge. Keeping that Big Apple Deli trophy (by beating Stritch) here was a big deal.”


(— includes file contributions from Press sports editor J. Patrick Eaken, sportswriter Mark Griffin, and the OHSAA. File photo of James by Don Thompson/Facebook.com/DNRSport. Photo of Lee while coaching at Clay by Jeff Smith)



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