There could be a significant difference in the high school football playoffs this coming season: all Friday games.
That’s what the Ohio High School Athletic Association board of directors will address during its regular June meeting.
In Ohio, football is divided into seven divisions, most of any high school sport. Playoff football games traditionally have been played on Friday and Saturday nights.
The OHSAA has determined that the increased popularity of college football, in particular statewide interest in Ohio State, which often plays in prime time on Saturday nights, has negatively affected attendance to Saturday high school football playoff games.
“Most of the people who’ve had conversations about this believe Friday night should be high school football night and there are too many conflicts when you get off Friday night,” OHSAA Commissioner Dr. Dan Ross said during last week’s media advisory committee meeting.
High school football playoffs run for five weeks following 10 weeks of the regular season. First-round playoff games are hosted by the higher seed. Weeks 12-14 games are shifted to neutral sites.
State championship Week 15 moves from Columbus and Ohio Stadium to Canton’s new Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium for 2017-18. Located next to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, the stadium is an NFL-worthy venue that has replaced historic Fawcett Stadium and is the centerpiece of an expanded NFL Hall of Fame Village.
If the board approves the proposed switch, playoff games would be held on Fridays for Weeks 11-14. Like now, state championship Week 15 would feature one game on Thursday and three each on Friday and Saturday.
Ross said the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association also favors a switch to Friday night playoff games.
“I like it because that’s what I hear from schools and coaches,” Ross said. “What stirred a lot of consternation about all this was Ohio State playing on Friday night.”
The Big Ten will play Friday night football games for the first time this season. There will be six nationally televised, but none includes OSU. A polarizing decision prompted by lucrative TV deals, several Big Ten programs have declared they will not play on Fridays because of its traditional high school football popularity.
Ross attributed other key reasons why this might work compared to previous eras. More stadiums have been fitted with the popular FieldTurf, an artificial surface that favorably influences OHSAA decision-making when choosing a neutral site. There also has been an increase in certified Class-1 officials. Coaches like keeping the same Friday-night routine, although many programs play Saturday regular-season games, too.
Also, a surprising number of high school venues refuse to be considered for Saturday games because of the lack of available workers. That’s especially poignant during Thanksgiving weekend, when the state semifinals are played.
Finally, the OHSAA didn’t provide precise numbers, but Ross said attendance for Friday playoff games compared to Saturday games “was significantly different. They’re not even close.”
Division I playoff games switched to Fridays last season after mostly being played on Saturdays since the playoffs began in 1972. Attendance for D-I games was “much higher” than previously. In contrast, D-III games suffered a spectator hit when it moved from Fridays to Saturdays. Attendance also is affected by weather, matchups and venue proximity.
Ross indicated the board will likely approve the switch.
“It seems to be a good thing to try and see how it works,” he said.