Rogers, Over and Out: OHSAA makes wrong call in moving State Football Finals

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By Tim Rogers

After 24 years Stark County may be hosting football finals for final time; Columbus, empty seats await

Leaving a spot you are fond of is never fun.

Maybe it was the final day of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe. Or, maybe it was the day you left the house you grew up in, or the day you handed over the keys to a summer cottage that had been in your family since the days of Babe Ruth. Walking away that last time burns a hollow feeling in your gut and dumps enough melancholy on you to make a Hallmark commercial.

It won’t be quite that traumatic this weekend when the state football championships are played for what could be the final time in Stark County.

But it will be close.

For the last 24 years the people in Canton and Massillon have poured thousands of man hours – not to mention their hearts and souls – into making one of the OHSAA’s two marquee events a whopping success. As far as I can tell they have fumbled about as often as Adrian Peterson.

JJH_RogersWhen I leave Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon and Canton’s Fawcett Stadium at varying times on Saturday, it will be with a sense of sadness. A bad mood is a good bet, too.

Rarely in the last 40 years have I disagreed with how the OHSAA conducts business. In everything from introducing more sports – I can remember when soccer, girls basketball and other sports were pipe dreams – to the punishments invoked on those who just can’t seem to follow the rules, the organization has acted prudently.

Some of the programs it has in place, such as the Catastrophic Insurance plan are beyond terrific, without costing the schools one dime. There are no initiation fees, no dues and no assessments for entering the state tournaments. There aren’t many free rides these days but the OHSAA offers one. You have to respect that.
Participating in high school sports, whether you are an athlete, a coach, an athletic director, a principal or a superintendent, is a privilege. It is not a right, no matter what the politicians and attorneys may say.

More than 1,600 high and middle schools come under the OHSAA’s jurisdiction and each probably has its own set of issues. I think administering those 1,600 would be like trying to herd 1,600 cats. I firmly believe it pursues, in the most equitable manner, what it believes to be the best scenarios for Ohio’s student-athletes.

In this day of transparency, let’s make one thing clear. I have lived in Stark County for the last 23 years. However, I was raised in Cleveland and lived there for more than 40 years. In many ways, I still consider myself a Clevelander. So, this is no hometown whine. I don’t have a horse in this race.

That does not mean I condone moving the state finals to Ohio Stadium starting in 2014. Quite simply, moving state championship weekend out of Stark County was the wrong call, maybe the worst in the 107-year history of the OHSAA. It was a whiff, a shank, a swing-and-a-miss, an air ball. The OHSAA does not make many wrong moves, but this one could prove to be colossal.

Fawcett and Tiger Stadium have been recognized as two of the finest high school facilities in the country, big enough to hold crowds in excess of 20,000 but not so big that crowds half that size become lost. They are perfect for high school football.

To stage the tournament in Ohio Stadium, where as many as 95,000 empty seats might witness the action, is a mistake. Nothing anyone can say will convince me otherwise.

The OHSAA has pointed to dwindling attendance over the last several years as one of the reasons for pulling the plug on two of its most loyal customers. What did the OHSAA’s board of directors think was going to happen when live television entered the show?

Sources have said that Columbus has made financial guarantees to the OHSAA, be it through ticket sales or just a cash handout. Fine. So that’s what high school sports has come down to, the bottom line? Doesn’t seem right.

OHSAA Commissioner Dan Ross said no discussions have been held regarding the site for the finals beyond 2015. That tells me there is no guarantee the event will ever return to Stark County.

Representatives of the schools in the southern part of the state have whined that it has been a disadvantage for them to travel all the way to Stark County to compete. Sure as hell hasn’t hurt the St. Xavier swim teams, which have won 29 state titles in Canton’s C.T. Branin Natatorium.

Ten schools from Hamilton County have won 23 state football titles, second only to Cuyahoga County’s 25 (thanks to St. Ignatius) with two more – Moeller and Loveland – able to increase that number this weekend. Moeller has gone 4-2 in state championship games played north of Columbus. Nine schools from Franklin County have produced 15 state titles and four schools from Montgomery County have won six titles.

Don’t know about you, but if I had an opportunity to play for a state title, I’d travel to Mars, if necessary. The venue should not be an issue.

One OHSAA official told me that disposed OSU coach Jim Tressel addressed the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association at their annual clinic many years ago. During his remarks he said he would do all he could to get the playoffs moved to Columbus, putting the OHSAA in an incredibly awkward position.

I’m not even going to get into the intimacy of playing at Fawcett and Tiger Stadium versus the lack of intimacy at Ohio Stadium. Just keep this thought in mind: 95,000 EMPTY SEATS.

Don’t get me wrong, Columbus and its surrounding communities are vibrant and thriving. Everything is new. Plenty of good hotels, restaurants and a wonderful zoo. But tell me, how many people in Central Ohio are going to give two bits about the high school finals if Ohio State is in the NCAA playoffs?

For years the OHSAA preached that it preferred to use its members’ stadiums as playoff game sites, frequently bypassing the artificial turf at collegiate sites to play on sometimes unplayable high school sites. (Remember St. Ignatius and Walsh Jesuit, 1993, in pre-turf Fawcett. Started raining on Thursday and didn’t stop until Tuesday.)

Maybe I’m just getting too old and am suffering from a case of metathesiophobia. It means having a fear of change.

Maybe I will be surprised. Maybe the folks in Columbus will wow everyone with their operation in 2014 and 2015. If not, maybe they can move the playoffs to the University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium and make Tressel the honorary chairman. There, about 17,000 empty seats can watch.


30 thoughts on “Rogers, Over and Out: OHSAA makes wrong call in moving State Football Finals

    • Freak On A Leash

      Let’s be ridiculous.There are plenty of great HS facilities in the Columbus, Cincinnati areas that could do as well or better than Canton and Massillon. You have Nippert Stadium at UC, Kings Island has a great venue, Bowling Green, Toledo, etc all have great facilities that could do as good as those two.
      Being from SW Ohio I will not make that 4 hour drive to Siberia to watch HS ball. It would be nice to be able to drive to CBus, an hour and a half away, and watch the games. NE Ohio hasn’t cornered the market on terrific stadiums.

  1. Harold Everhart

    In reference to your sour grapes of the high school football playoffs moving to Columbus and out of your own backyard for next year. Yes, those two stadiums in stark county are nice but when you have it there every year and you have teams that have to travel from south of the Columbus area, not every team is going to have the fan base following them up north. Whether you know it or not, most of southern Ohio isn’t as financially stable as the northern part of the state and I believe that the finals should be centrally located in the state to give everyone in the state a decent chance to see their team in the finals without having to spend needless extra money for travel and sometimes hotels. It’s only fair, but as you said and I agree, not at OSU. I remember when they used to be there and it does take a lot from the game because of all the empty seats and space. The OHSAA should really hold the finals at the crew soccer stadium, convenient for everyone as far as driving distance, plenty of seating and not to big and plenty of parking at the state fair grounds. If they don’t want to do that, move it around each year to each of the four corners of the state so every one has the chance to see the games in their area and everyone else can see what the hassles of driving a long distance and finding places to stay is like. Down here in the southern part of the state, that’s what we have to look forward to every year. I don’t hear you complaining about basketball finals and it works out fine for everyone at Columbus…

  2. Adam

    Only people living in Stark are complaining about this. The Southern schools should not have to travel twice or 3 times as far to play in “neutral” site. OHSAA made one of its few intelligent decisions here. Columbus has a better stadium, better visitor accommodations and a more centralized location. Traveling to Stark County should never be a reward for something done well.

    • Tim Rogers

      Trotwood-Madison coach Maurice Douglass said he would rather play in Stark County. So, too, did Kirtland coach Tiger Leverde. It is not just Stark County people who are unhappy with the decision.

  3. Alfred Barnes

    I live 50 miles south of Columbus about 55 miles north of Cincinnati and I go to the state championships every year and go to all six games each year. I do not go because my home town team is there, I go because I like to watch good high school football. I have done this for 15 years. Now I’m complaining about this. I went to several North south all star games in the shoe. It was great fun hearing the announcer echo through the almost empty stadium ( It truly will not be much better for the state championships). Now when you go to all the games like I do, sometime you feel like a snack. Paul Brown or Fawcett , you pay high school prices. The shoe college prices, enough said. Sometimes you feel like a little more to eat and when you travel from stadium to stadium up north you have time between games to stop and eat. Just where are you going to go in Columbus? The only plus I see about this change is I will not be staying in the Amish country and having my wife shop all weekend while I watch football. Do I plan to go watch in the shoe? Yes and I hope I’m wrong about how bad it is going to be. I have always thought the ending to going to the games would be my age (I’m not young) or failing health, but now I wonder.

  4. Alfred Barnes

    Harold , you will not be in a sardine can , you be in an empty 55 gal barrel and it will seem like your there by your self.

  5. Dembwi

    I have been attending the state finals since the days of separate venues spaced far apart, to the days in the Shoe, and finally all but one year that the games have been played in Stark County. When they first moved to Stark I was skeptical to say the least, I enjoyed sitting away from the crowds in Columbus because I wanted to concentrate on the games. The people of Stark County, especially Massillon, have busted their butts to be good hosts and it showed. There are people I have met and befriended in Stark that I look forward to seeing during this time of year because football season in Stark is important to those folks. Spending time in the area restaurants and diners exposed me to people passionate about high school football and well-versed in its history in a way I have not experienced elsewhere. I will genuinely miss Paul Brown Tiger Stadium and Fawcett, but, that is secondary to the culture. The football mural in Massillon, Heggy’s Nut Shop, etc. While I am sensitive to the plight of towns in the southern part of the state, I was able to make the trip from Allen County for a quarter of a century.

    I’m fairly certain that I will transition to Columbus. Once again I will be able to isolate myself and analyze, that might not be all bad. I know this, the people in charge are going to play hell attempting to be half the hosts that the people in Stark have been. They won me over in spades and I hope that the games return some day.

  6. rcb

    Southwest Ohio and Northwest Ohio face off every year in the Finals in several divisions. We Southwest Ohio folks are tired of Northwest having home games. Yes, it matters.

  7. Marty Christa

    Moving to the Shoe….. goodbye $8 seats….probably more to the tune of $20, and lunch will cost you another $15, Parking $5, Programs $5, seeing 95,000 empty seats and getting OHSAA a guarnteed cash pay out from OSU priceless!!!……. a very bad move….its High School State Championships and should be played in a HS facility!! and I drive 3 hours to Massillon so I got nothing to gain by keeping it there, but when it goes to the shoe…hello FOX sports from my Lazy-Boy chair

    • Dembwi

      If they actually ask that much for tickets they will be sounding the death knell for state finals attendance. It won’t much matter to the big wigs and media who get in free, I suppose. The rest of your scenario is very likely.

  8. SouthernOhioFB

    Terrific Article!. My perspective is as a fan, not a team, so my views may be slightly different. As a “RiverRat” from southern Ohio (No not Cincinnati, real southern Ohio), we’ve made the 5+ hour trip every year for the last 12 years. Stark County does an amazing job for us fans. Its sad to see the Championships moved to Columbus into a venue that is not meant for high school football. Here is a list of cons from a fan’s perspective:
    1. Nothing like watching a game in the Grand Canyon. It will be like watching one of those high school all-star games that no one attends.
    2. Hate the thought of fighting Campus and Columbus traffic.
    3. Better local support in Stark County. I’ve seen the way the Columbus area supports the majority of their high school teams, so forget about it.
    4. I’m hearing that Sunday is now in play when it moves to Columbus. If so, I’m done. I’ll get my 14+ ticket orders and money.

    No central location will ever make everyone happy, so why try? I’ve seen some schools at the finals in Div. II and III, that it didn’t matter if the game was played in their city park, the community wouldn’t support them. Any really why does a central location matter? Do you need crowd support to win the game? Not going to matter in the Grand Canyon next year. Hell, you won’t even be able to hear them at all. Does a team that travels to the game game the day before have any more or less advantage over a team that arrives 8 hours early the day of?

    I attended a high school that will never make the finals. If they did and the game site location was a parking lot in Canada, the community would be there.

    Good Bye Stark County. OHSAA will be bringing the finals back, when they see how they screwed this up in the future.

  9. Stumblebum

    They finally mad the RIGHT call. There is no reason the playoffs should always be in northern Ohio. There are plenty of excellent facilities in the southern part of the state. I will attend the playoffs at Ohio State or anywhere else within a reasonable drive. No way in Hell I’m driving all the way to Stark County.

  10. fbfan

    I am a football fan first and foremost and I do believe that the games either need to be centralized or at least rotated every year. I live near Cincinnati but follow my hometown team that is located in west central Ohio and has been to the state finals more times over the last 10+ years than any other team in the state. This is not really a north south issue because my hometown team has a considerable distance to drive to get to Stark County who I will admit have done a nice job as host but it would still be considered a home field advantage for the northern teams. As far as playing in a empty stadium goes I imagine that a high number of these kids will never play college ball and it would just be a huge exciting experience to play on that field. My boys played peewee football in the Cincinnati area and there was always a weekend at the end of the season where they held games in the Bengals stadium. My boys could not tell you if they won or lost but they still talk about playing on that field and hearing their names announced over the P A system, they did not care that the stands were 95% empty.

  11. Tjhtygeverve

    All I remember is the excitement of playing @ the shoe. Yes, many many state finals my high school of Ironton played there. Mass.& CFS too.
    I know it won’t be @ the shoe(not sure), but much better than the per served mass. & canton. Stadiums.
    CMh will be worth flying into from orlando. Akron, to fly into & play at canton & Massillon , not so much.
    Until Ironton steps it back up to state level play, that’ll be when it’s back in stark. With my luck!

  12. ColdwaterBuck

    I am in favor of a far more radical approach. I believe there should be no Friday day games. A lot of fans who attend every game can not get off of work on a Friday, and thus have to miss the biggest game of the year.

    Further, due to the probable low temperatures in December, I believe every game should start at 2:00 PM on Saturday.

    To accomplish this, simply play week five of the playoffs, like weeks two through four. Pick a nice field about half way between the two schools. Have a couple of people there from the OHSAA to pass out trophies, etc. Attendance would go up, fans would be happy, travel expenses would lower, more seats would be filled, the weather would be better, etc.

    I know this is radical, but if were up to the fans, I believe it would be a landslide winner.

  13. Freak On A Leash

    You said it yourself…”the venue should not matter”. SW Ohio has been cheated out of the benefit of the state games for this entire run. Columbus is a perfect place, and let’s face it, the weather is much better that time of the year in Columbus or Cincinnati.
    Nippert Stadium, Ohio Stadium, etc. Stark County has had a good run and now it’s time to take it to a larger and more accessible site. I like the idea of the move and think it should rotate between all the areas of Ohio.

    • Number25

      Anyone who knows anything knows that the soul of football belongs in canton. What other high school venues has historical markers at their fields? I played in the longest championship game in 97 on Paul brown tiger- part of me belongs there. I will miss those stadiums.

  14. o.a.b.

    Why argue about it ? The venue is temporary and will be re – bid in the future. Maybe the real truth lies here : Stark County is afraid of the future…is afraid to admit that Columbus deserves a shot. Stark County maybe the heart of PRO football…Columbus is the heart of College football so it stands to reason that high school football could be either location.

  15. tim

    I think its a decade past due the finals were moved back to coulumbus. Try Living in florida and flying into a regional airport suck as akron/canton and finally landing there after 2 connections.. Nothing like a direct flight on allegiant airlines into Columbus from Sanford, FL (orlando, just north to the east from Orlando International airport by UCF).Or even still a Direct flight with NO stops into Huntington, WV (near Ironton) to catch a 2-hour ride inton columbus with old high school friends!!! They just dont go to The NE ohio venue from the far south, unless a local team advances to the finals(every 10 years).
    BUT many drive up to columbus. Having it central to the state for all, will only attract high school football fans to Columbus instead of such a jaunt to Mass/canton.
    I don’t understand why this no brainer causes so many headaches…

  16. Charles H. Long

    If the team I follow most closely is playing in the championship game it doesn’t matter where the game is played. If it is another team from the conference my team is in, then Columbus would be much better for me. Many of the other states play their championship games at the big stadiums in their state and no one seems to complain.

  17. Kevin Douglas

    I don’t understand why they don’t rotate where they are played. Two years in Stark County, two years in Columbus, two years in Cincy. I’ve gone to all of the games for the past 15 years and I wouldn’t mind a change of venue every few years. I know there would be issues with the idea, but I’m sure they could figure it out. I’m not a big fan of the Stark County venues and have laundry list of issues with the area, but let’s spread the wealth.


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