COLUMBUS — With the high school football regular-season set to begin this week, the Ohio High School Athletic Association has provided details and reminders regarding media coverage, team protocols, game management changes and the new playoff format.
There were 709 member schools originally planning to play 11-man football in Ohio this fall, but approximately 60 schools have either paused or cancelled football due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Aug. 18, Governor Mike DeWine asked the OHSAA to create participation opportunity for those schools that don’t play sports this fall, but it is unlikely that additional tournaments would be held in the spring for fall sports.
“Our schools are so excited to get the season started and they are taking ownership of the new safety guidelines so they can have a season,” said Beau Rugg, OHSAA Senior Director of Sport Management and Officiating. “As we saw in the spring, sports can be shut down due to COVID-19 spread, so our schools, coaches and student-athletes want to do everything they can to play as many games this fall as possible. Teams must continue to follow the safety protocols that have been put in place, including wearing a facial covering, staying 6-feet apart and washing their hands.”
OHSAA COVID-19 Guidance Center
All sports in Ohio – at all levels – are under the direction of the latest Ohio Department of Health order signed Aug. 19 by Governor DeWine.
The new ODH order permits contact sports, including the fall sports of field hockey, soccer and football, to move forward with games against other schools. The Governor confirmed support for Ohio’s coaches to inspire their student-athletes to continue following safety precautions so that all sports can be played.
The OHSAA encourages media coverage of all games and working media members are not counted toward the capacity limits for spectators. Approval and placement of media members will be determined by the host school Athletic Director depending on the layout of the facility, including how many people are permitted in the press box. In small press boxes, due to social distancing regulations, there will not be space available for media. At field level, media members must be outside the team box, which has been expanded this season to span from the 10-yard line to the opposite 10-yard line. Media must also stay at least two yards back from the in-play field boundary. Media must wear a facial covering at all times. As always, media should contact the host school’s Athletic Director well in advance of game day to request permission to attend and, if approved, discuss their placement and access during the game. Media are not permitted in the locker room.
Season schedule and format
At the recommendation of the Governor’s Office, the OHSAA announced on Aug. 7 that the season would end earlier than previously scheduled and that every team could enter the playoffs, which will begin Oct. 9-10. The Harbin computer ratings will not be used this season.
Game management changes
• Up to 60 players may dress for games.
• The team box on the sideline has been extended from the 10-yard line to the opposite 10-yard line so that coaches and players can adhere to social distancing guidelines.
• All coaches, players, medical staff, game workers, media and spectators must wear a facial covering at all times, other than the 22 players on the field of play.
• The OHSAA recommends that halftimes be shortened to 10 minutes (plus three minutes for warm-up) and that team members be kept socially distanced outside their locker room. The host school will determine the specific length of halftime.
• Timeouts may be extended to two minutes in length
• Officials will have limited contact with the ball. The players on the offensive team will handle the ball and take it with them to their huddle. The umpire will place an orange bean bag at the spot where the ball will be snapped.
• Each player should have his/her own water bottle.
• Players and coaches from the visiting team should not use a locker room, therefore they should arrive already fully or partially dressed in their game uniform.
• Pregame handshakes (captains and officials) and postgame handshakes lines are not permitted.
• Schools must inform the OHSAA of their intention to participate in the playoffs by September 17.
• New playoff regions will be drawn on September 18. Divisional assignments will not change.
• Schools may withdraw from the playoffs without penalty until September 24.
• Playoff regional seeding will be determined by a vote of the coaches in each region during the week of September 28. Depending on the number of teams in each bracket, it is possible that the top seed(s) may have a first-round bye.
• All playoff contests through the regional semifinals (and possibly the regional finals) will be hosted by the higher seeded team.
• Playoff games will be held on Friday and Saturday nights beginning October 9-10. Divisions, I, II, III and VII will play on Friday nights. Divisions IV, V and VI will play on Saturday nights.
• The number of playoff rounds will be dependent upon the number of schools entering the playoffs in each division. It is expected that the state championship games will be held November 13-14 and/or November 20-21.
• Schools eliminated from the OHSAA playoffs or that choose not to enter the OHSAA playoffs have the option to schedule additional regular season contests through Saturday, November 14 (maximum of 10 regular season contests permitted).
Spectrum News 1 will continue with its OHSAA Friday Night Lights Game of the Week live telecasts, which includes scholarship contributions to a male and female student-athlete from the host school (or two males if the school is all-male).
On Aug. 4, the OHSAA announced that the host school now makes the decision on all requests for live video of regular-season games, including media.
In September, the OHSAA will announce the broadcasting rights and protocols for playoff games.
By order of the Ohio Department of Health, only 15 percent of the stadium’s permanent seating capacity may be admitted into the game. Players, coaches, officials, cheerleaders, band members, game workers and media do not count toward that 15 percent capacity.
Inspectors to attend games
Governor DeWine has asked the OHSAA to assemble a large team of inspectors who will attend games to ensure that all safety protocols are being followed. The inspectors, which will be paid by the Governor’s Office, will work with the host site’s compliance officer and/or Athletic Director and utilize a checklist of items. The intent of the inspector program is to educate those at the game regarding proper safety protocols, but the OHSAA may enact penalties through Bylaw 11 if necessary.
Suggested public address announcement
The OHSAA asks that the following public address announcement be used by the school PA announcer during all athletic contests this school year. Broadcasters are encouraged to use their own similar version during broadcasts.
“Ladies and Gentlemen – this year, our season depends on the cooperation and support from everyone to follow the safety guidelines set by the Ohio Department of Health, the Governor’s Office and the Ohio High School Athletic Association. As we have seen, the opportunity to play sports can be taken away by the spread of COVID-19. We ask that everyone in attendance wear a facial covering, use proper hygiene and keep yourself and your family six feet apart from other families. Our ability to follow these guidelines will go a long way in determining how much of a season our student-athletes will have. Thank you for your cooperation.”
2021 schedule notes
On May 22, the OHSAA announced that the 2021 season will start a week earlier and the playoffs will be expanded to include 12 teams from each region, and thus span six rounds. The top four seeds in each region will have a first-round bye. The full release is posted at: https://www.ohsaa.org/Sports/News/ohsaa-to-expand-football-playoffs-in-2021
Practice Start Date: August 1 (additional details TBA)
Scrimmage Dates: August 6-14
Season Begins: Week of August 16
Regular-Season Ends: Saturday, October 23
First Round of Playoffs: October 29-30
Regional Quarterfinals: November 5-6
Regional Semifinals: November 12-13
Regional Finals: November 19-20
State Semifinals: November 26-27
State Finals: December 2-4