Changes are coming to the Ohio High School Athletic Association postseason tournaments.
This year marks the debut of blended districts — often referred to as “Super Districts” — that were implemented in an effort to create more competitive balance.
Instead of schools being pre-assigned a district site, they will have their choice of two or, in the case of Medina County girls teams, three local districts.
The change only applies to Division I. Higher seeds will host sectional games — like baseball and softball — and then move to neutral sites for district play and beyond.
“I think it’s been a long time coming,” Wadsworth girls coach Andrew Booth said. “We talked years ago about maybe just combining all seven districts and making it a true super district because you have so many good teams in one district and they don’t have a chance to get out.
“Anything that can help spread things out, I’m all in favor of.”
On the girls side, the Medina, Elyria Catholic and Valley Forge districts will combine, but only for seeding purposes. The teams will be ranked one through 33, with the top three seeds required to be in opposing brackets.
It’s a free-for-all after that, as the other 29 teams will have their choice of what district to compete at. They then will select a line on that bracket.
In theory, Wadsworth could head to Medina, Cloverleaf to Valley Forge and Medina to Elyria Catholic following the 2 p.m. Sunday seed meeting at Elyria High School.
The top teams are Wadsworth (17-0, No. 2 in state poll), Berea-Midpark (15-0, No. 3) and North Royalton (15-2).
“I think it’s a really good thing to be able to spread out the better teams to allow them a fair opportunity to advance,” Cloverleaf coach John Carmigiano said. “It is going to be really crazy in these first few years figuring out how it will help your own team, but I also think it is really exciting.”
Though the goal was to separate the top teams so they don’t face each other at the district level — for example, very good Westlake would have had to go through undefeated Berea-Midpark — the old disparity problem could remain.
When an elite team such as Wadsworth is involved, seeds four through 33 will hesitate to choose that district. As a result, the Grizzlies could have an easier path to regionals than they did in the notoriously average Medina District.
“That’s going to be the interesting thing to see with this new format,” Booth said. “We’re the only one in Northeast Ohio with three districts. The others have two. I’m not sure how it’s going to shake out. Are they going to jump on the third (seed’s) bracket? Maybe they’ll say, ‘Let’s try to get to the district level and maybe the district finals.”’
On the flip side, the new setup could give underrated teams like Medina, Brunswick and Cloverleaf a better chance simply because they can avoid the Wadsworths of the world if chips fall their way.
“For those that understand bracketology, they could be rewarded in big ways,” Carmigiano said.
The blended districts are expected to have a significant impact on the boys, who will have their seed meetings Feb. 9. While it did not have a dominant team last year, the Copley District was noted for having 11 of the 12 schools with .500 or better records.
That will change, as Copley has been combined with the loaded Canton District. The latter features undefeated Uniontown Lake, two-loss Massillon Jackson and one-loss Canton Timken.
Brunswick has been moved to Midview-Brecksville after spending the last two seasons at Copley. The top teams among those 26 are St. Edward — considered by most the best team in Ohio — Olmsted Falls, Westlake, St. Ignatius and North Royalton.
“I don’t know if it helps or hurts us,” Blue Devils coach Joe Mackey said. “As a coaching staff, we’re studying how everything works. It’s been talked about for years, but it’s something I never thought would happen. I didn’t think anything was wrong with the original format.
“From a strategic standpoint, it makes you look at a lot more teams.”
Divisions II-IV will keep the old format. Buckeye will be considered a favorite at the Westlake D-II District — it no longer has to contend with juggernaut Cleveland Central Catholic — while Black River is at Wooster D-III.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.