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Ohio high school football championships coming to Ohio Stadium, along with reforms

The Ohio High School Athletic Association had a productive meeting yesterday in Columbus. Among the highlights: adding a 7th division to high school football, and committing to bringing the 7 championship games to Ohio Stadium in 2014 and 2015.

Future home to Ohio state championship games.
Future home to Ohio state championship games.

Adding the 7th division addressed a long time complaint for coaches and fans of larger high school programs in Ohio. The OHSAA breaks down divisions based on enrollment, and Division 1, the division with the biggest schools, had the largest disparity between big schools and small schools. Under the previous system, the largest D1 football school, Cincinnati St. Xavier and the smallest D1 football school (Avon Lake), was larger than the difference between the largest school in D2 and the smallest in D6.

Now, Division 1 will be a 72 team division comprised of the largest 10% of all Ohio football playing high schools, while divisions 2-6 will be divided up equally. While the specific enrollment cutoff numbers won't be known until later, it is suspected that many prominent Ohio programs may shift divisions, like Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, or programs in Columbus suburbs Westerville and Olentangy. estimates that the new divisional breakdown would be: Division I – 600 to 1,164, Division II – 410-599, Division III – 288 to 409, Division IV – 216-287, Division V – 159-215, Division VI 114-158 and Division VII – up to 111. By shrinking the size of each division while maintaining the same number of playoff births for each division, grabbing a postseason birth should get a little easier for many programs.

Large school powers like Columbus-area Dublin Coffman and Pickerington Central, along with blog favorite Warren G Harding High School, are likely to remain in the big school Division 1.

These 7 division championships will happen over a three day weekend, where one game will be played on Thursday (Dec 5th), three on Friday (Dec 6th) and three on Saturday (Dec 7th). Per previous agreements, these games will be played in scenic Canton and Massillon in 2013.

Buckeye fans will be happy to note that in 2014 and 2015, the OHSAA championship games will be played at Ohio Stadium. While this makes the most logistical sense, given the geographical location of Columbus and facilities at Ohio State, this move could potentially be yet another recruiting advantage for Ohio State in recruiting players from elite programs, especially as they continue to fight Michigan and other Big Ten schools.

The OHSAA also approved a group of four referendum to be voted upon by the general body in May. Perhaps the most interesting proposal is one that would separate public and private schools into different playoff pools, like Texas. Kurt Snyder of LGHL's favorite small town Ohio newspaper, the Newark Advocate, breaks down the issue well. Coaches and administrators of Ohio's small schools have complained that private schools are able to use their selective enrollment powers to gain unfair advantages over their public school peers. White football results at the larger school levels have been more even, Ohio's smaller divisions have often been dominated by private schools. A proposal to add a "multiplier" to private school's enrollment numbers when determining their division was voted down by only 30 votes two years ago.

Personally, if a state decides to use enrollment numbers to break down divisional structures, I think it's hard to argue that private schools don't get an advantage. A public school is limited to the number of kids in their geographic district, and that will include kids with IEPs, ESL students, or others that would be otherwise eliminated from athletic participation for reasons beyond athletic ability. A private school would be under no legal obligation to take those students, effectively giving them a larger, maybe much larger pool to draw from.

Of course, those advantages are not limited to just private schools. Open enrollment policies can help a high school team draw students from outside their district boundaries, something that may be particularly prevalent in urban school districts, where students could hypothetically all transfer to one building to create an athletic superteam. Wealthier districts will always have advantages over poorer ones, and those disparities may create even greater disparities than public/private. Should the OHSAA try to legislate those as well? Proposals have been made, but they're complicated and not universally popular.

If nothing else, the spotlight of Ohio's high school playoffs will be open to a larger number of schools next season, which may help a few more prospects get the publicity they need to play at the next level. Hopefully, as the playoffs move to Columbus, that will mean more of them will want to suit up for the Scarlet and Gray.