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Expansion by OHSAA is puzzling

It takes a lot for a high school coach to use scathing remarks in an “on the record” conversation.

When it does happen, the quotes usually come during an emotionally-charged moment right after a game.

So, when coaches had time to think about the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s decision to expand the postseason in football, and they still chose to sound off, it was clear how they felt about the changes.

Coaches from all around the Mahoning Valley said the OHSAA’s motive to expand the playoffs from eight teams to 16 was money. One coach said the officials at the governing body for high school sports in the state “do a terrible job.” Even the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association ripped the OHSAA, saying the decision was “financially motivated.”

The OHSAA has come under extensive scrutiny ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started to affect sports. There have been some very difficult decisions regarding sports, and there was never going to be a choice that made everyone happy, but the administration at the OHSAA is in place, in part, to be the guiding influence during tough times. They seem to be dropping the ball.

“When we went through COVID and the OHSAA had to make decisions on where we were playing, who we were playing, what was going to happen, they totally just did away with every decision,” Springfield football coach Sean Guerriero said. “It was up to the school system. So, they want to make every decision when it’s about money, but when it has to be about the kids or problems of any sort, they want to wash their hands of it. And I don’t think it should just be about money.”

Those are harsh words from one of the area’s more well-respected coaches.

There seems to be truth to his words, too. Another coach told me the OHSAA could make over $4 million by expanding the playoff field from eight to 16 in each division. The decision broke a previous agreement with the coaches association that had extended the field from eight to 12, with the top four teams earning a first-round bye. That compromise came in January of 2020, and the OHSAA went back on its word.

The OHSFCA issued a statement hours after the decision was made on April 22, saying the OHSAA ignored a pact it created with coaches from around the state, who worked together for two years to create the arrangement. It’s hard to overlook the fact that the OHSAA wouldn’t have made as much money in a 12-team format because of the byes, yet it profits greatly from adding an extra four teams to the fold.

“The decision by the OHSAA to expand to a 16-team playoff format is met with complete dismay by the OHSFCA,” the release stated. “The OHSAA failed to work in good faith with our association. … We are extremely disappointed in (the) vote by the OHSAA without consulting the OHSFCA. It is abundantly clear that this decision is financially motivated.”

It’s not a good look when a coaches association is calling out the governing body of high school sports.

Why wouldn’t the OHSAA consult such a group after it worked in unison with them for the previous agreement? It appeared like a sudden, rash decision and one that seemingly didn’t include any coaches, athletic directors or school administrators. That doesn’t seem to make much sense.

And does anyone really want a No. 1 seed facing a No. 16 seed in the first round? It will be a total mismatch nine times out of 10 — and that’s being generous. What happens when a team pulls out of the playoffs because it doesn’t want to get embarrassed by a top-seeded perennial powerhouse? That’s inevitable, and again, it won’t be a good look for anyone.

Money is the elephant in the room. The OHSAA receives all the proceeds from the gate during postseason games. Sure, they suffered major financial losses last year when there was limited attendance at playoff games, but so did schools that couldn’t have more than a few fans during the regular season. The schools aren’t adding games or drastically raising prices to attend games to make up for losses. Doing so would put the players’ safety at risk and add a financial burden to their families. More money isn’t worth that risk, and that’s something the OHSAA needs to take into consideration.

There’s also a health concern by adding another week to the season and taking away a week of preseason practice. Teams that reach the state championship will have played 16 straight games (the same amount of NFL teams).

That’s a bit too much.

This is all a bit too much.

The OHSAA acted in haste. It acted irresponsibly, and it acted like it just wanted to make up for last year’s losses. That’s not why such an association was created.

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