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Copyright 2013 The Columbus Dispatch
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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
August 25, 2013 Sunday
868 words
HIGH SCHOOLS; Coaches say numbers in new division don't add up;

No one will argue that football is all about the numbers. The manner in how those numbers are being manipulated, however, is cause for debate among many high-school coaches.

Long troubled by a discrepancy in size from the largest schools in Division I to the smallest, the Ohio High School Athletic Association devised a plan to narrow that gap. It created a seventh division, in essence turning the former Division I into a "super division" made up of the state's largest schools.

The new Division I consists of 72 schools, ranging from 608 boys and larger. The teams were split into what amounts to a North region and a South region, determined by county. Sixteen teams in each region qualify for the playoffs, with the top seed playing host to No. 16 and so forth.

Four area schools from Delaware and Licking counties were assigned to the North region, which features programs such as Cleveland St. Ignatius, Lakewood St. Edward and Canton McKinley. Sixteen teams from Franklin and Fairfield counties will play in the South region, which includes the likes of Cincinnati parochial powers St. Xavier, Elder and Moeller and its suburban neighbors.

In the previous four-region, eight-team format, Ohio Capital Conference teams in the big-school division essentially had a regional tournament of their own, with the winner advancing to a state semifinal against the top team in southwest Ohio.

"I don't think the OHSAA achieved what it was trying for, which was to create more parity in the division," Westerville South coach Rocky Pentello said. "We're still looking at a situation where we might play a school with nearly twice as many boys than we have, and no matter how you slice it, the team with the larger pool to draw from has a big advantage. That discrepancy plays a big factor in football because our sport is all about numbers and depth."

Area teams not only will have a more difficult time making the playoffs, but advancing deep will be an even greater challenge, Pentello said.

"The whole thing is tailor-made for Cleveland and Cincinnati to meet in the championship because they're got the much bigger schools," he said.

In 2012, 119 schools competed in Division I, ranging from 494 boys up. Teams in that lower range argue that they are at a distinct disadvantage against perennial powers such as St. Xavier (1,181 boys) and St. Ignatius (1,086). Mason, at 1,266, is the largest school in Ohio. Hilliard Darby, at 609, is the second smallest in the new division.

Hilliard Davidson coach Brian White guided his team to two state championships despite being smaller (734 boys) than some of the giant schools. Nonetheless, he doesn't care much for the new big-school format.

"I would rather see us have eight teams make the playoffs in four regions, like we did in the past and like what all of the other divisions do," he said.

"What puzzles me is that the OHSAA's decisions are usually dictated by money. To me, this is going to cost more in terms of travel, and it will severely cut into fan support. From the first round on, teams in our region are going to be matched up against teams in southwest Ohio, and the same holds true with (area) schools in the north region facing teams up in Cleveland, Canton and Toledo. I liked it better when the regions were more localized and each of the big metro areas had a chance to get a team to the final four."

One area team potentially benefiting from the realignment is Olentangy Orange, which moved to Division II. But coach Brian Cross, who has spent much of his career in Division I with Grove City and Canton McKinley, believes the new setup is flawed.

"I really was hoping that the super division would be for schools 800 (boys) and up, and you could have widened the gap a little for the other divisions," he said. "Even with the new format, the discrepancy from 608 schools to 1,266 is huge. The smaller school is at a serious competitive disadvantage. It's like the Mid-American Conference playing the Big Ten."

Division II consists of teams ranging from 403 to 607 boys, Division III from 281 to 402, Division IV from 213 to 280, Division V from 156 to 212, Division VI 112 to 156, and Division VII is 111 and under. Each of those divisions has between 105 and 108 schools.

The trickle-down effect from adding the extra division will benefit some teams and hurt others. Changing divisions are 45 area teams. Many will join regions with unfamiliar opponents.

A handful of perennial playoff teams from the City League (Marion-Franklin, Brookhaven, Beechcroft) and Central Catholic League (Watterson, Hartley, Ready) perhaps caught breaks by moving down a division.

But longtime small-school titan Newark Catholic remained in Division VI by one boy, much to the delight of teams in Division VII.

On the move

Down to Division II: Dublin Scioto, Olentangy, Olentangy Orange, St. Charles

Down to Division III: Beechcroft, Brookhaven, Big Walnut, Marion-Franklin, Mifflin

Down to Division IV: Bexley, Jonathan Alder, Licking Valley, Watterson

Down to Division V: Hartley, North Union, Westfall

Down to Division VI: Columbus Academy, Fairbanks, Fredericktown, Grandview, Ready

Down to Division VII: Danville, Fairfield Christian, Fisher Catholic

Eamon Queeney / Dispatch Hilliard Davidson and D.D. Clark, left, will compete in a new Division I, made up of the state's largest schools.
August 25, 2013

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