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Playoffs will have a different feel

If you find yourself thinking it is too early for high school football playoffs to begin, you are not alone.

Yet in a world where all that we considered to be normal has looked like anything but since the middle of March, that’s the place we find ourselves.

This year’s Ohio High School Athletic Association playoffs will look like no other we have seen before. While in a normal season, 224 schools across all of the state’s seven divisions qualify for the postseason, this year’s field was open to any school that choose to participate. And 646 schools have decided to do just that.

The playoffs also have moved from the end of the schedule to the seventh week, which means the traditional win-and-play-again, lose-and-you’re-done format that normally goes along with post-season football doesn’t really apply — teams that are eliminated from the playoffs or that opted out will have the option to continue scheduling games through Nov. 14 with a 10-game limit on their seasons.

Chalk it all up to just another change brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the feeling by OHSAA officials and school representatives from around that the state that this format will offer the best way toward crowning champions.

Action begins locally Friday at 7 p.m. when Steubenville Big Red hosts Youngstown East in Division III, and Toronto hosts Tuscarawas Catholic in Division VI. On Saturday at 7 p.m., Indian Creek will visit Indian Valley in a Division IV contest, while Edison will host Akron Manchester in a Division V battle. Buckeye Local will visit Ravenna Southeast at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in a Division V game.

Harrison Central advanced to the second round after its scheduled opponent, Rootstown, was forced to drop out of the tournament because of COVID issues.

In another format change — one that we hope will become permanent — winning carries an added dividend — higher-seeded teams will get home games through the regional semifinals.

And it all leads to … even the OHSAA is not sure right now. While the organization has said the Division I championship game will be played Nov. 13, the only thing we know for sure is that the title games in Divisions II through VII will be played between Nov. 19 and 22 at sites that will be determined between now and then.

Playoff games also will have a different feel — visiting bands will not be permitted at the games, and attendance will be very limited as officials continue to find a balance between pandemic safety and allowing student-athletes to compete. It’s a narrow path that administrators have — so far — navigated well.

The journey to an Ohio state football championship begins this weekend — we wish all of the teams good luck, encourage fans to support the participants and hope everyone stays safe — on and off the fields.

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