Conflicting restraining orders threaten to delay Ohio state football playoffs with four teams’ futures in the balance

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

In a day of bedlam off the football field, Thursday completely changed the course of the historic Ohio state football playoffs, with court decisions allowing two teams to compete in the tournament at the cost of two others.

Cleveland Heights may be in the Ohio state football playoffs after a judge's restraining order — BeRecruited
Cleveland Heights may be in the Ohio state football playoffs after a judge's restraining order — BeRecruited

Brace yourself: What follows below is one of the more complicated legal breakdowns you'll read all week, unless you happen to be a lawyer by vocation.

The wild final day before the playoffs was ushered in by a strange scenario in which two schools were eliminated from the final spots in the playoffs because of a forfeit in another game that didn't involve either school. As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, because of complicated Ohio High School Athletic Association tiebreakers and bylaws, when Cleveland (Ohio) JFK High forfeited an Oct. 18 game against Cleveland (Ohio) John Adams High, the trickle down on the "playoff points" used to determine which teams qualify for the playoffs pushed Cleveland Heights (Ohio) High into the postseason on the basis of its victory against John Adams.

Yet Cleveland Heights was kept out of the initial playoff brackets because the OHSAA didn't recognize the JFK forfeit, for a fairly simple reason: It never felt that the allegedly ineligible JFK player should have been ineligible in the first place. As it turns out, the eligibility standards for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District are more strict than those used by the state as a whole, leading the OHSAA to hand JFK an extra win and push Mayfield (Ohio) High into the playoffs at the expense of Cleveland Heights.

This being America, Cleveland Heights immediately filed an injunction to have the JFK forfeit counted as a forfeit, which would give Adams that victory and improved playoff points in the process. That would strengthen Cleveland Heights' playoff points enough to push the school back into the playoffs.

"A forfeit is a forfeit is a forfeit," Cleveland Heights coach Jeff Rotsky told the Plain Dealer. "I believe what is right happened. I did what I believe what every good coach would do, and that's fight for his kids."

A judge in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court agreed with Cleveland Heights and placed the school back in the playoffs at the expense of Mayfield. Meanwhile, because Ashtabula (Ohio) Edgewood High beat JFK, it was handed the final playoff spot in another Northeastern Ohio district. If JFK's forfeit is again treated as a forfeit, Edgewood would also be out of the postseason, handing that final spot to Beachwood (Ohio) High.

The entire scenario is a big, soupy legal mess. And it isn't over yet, either. As of Friday afternoon, Mayfield was still attempting to get the Cuyahoga County judge who issued the restraining order -- Judge Richard McMonagle -- to rescind it, which would put the playoffs back to their original status. That seems unlikely, but another judge -- Ashtabula County Common Pleas Judge Alfred Mackey -- issued a separate restraining order which would force the OHSAA to revert to its original  playoff matchups, a decision which would put Mayfield and Edgewood back in the playoffs.

With the two separate restraining orders directly contravening each other, an impromptu trip to the Ohio State Supreme Court seems likely, with Mayfield already lining up appeals to the 8th District Court of Appeals in Cleveland and the Ohio Supreme Court, depending on the ruling issued by the 8th District Court.

If you're confused, don't worry, even the OHSAA is at this point. Rather than offer any concrete advice, OHSAA spokesman Tim Stried told all four teams to prepare for opening round playoff games, with either Beachwood or Edgewater facing off against Brookfield (Ohio) High on Friday and either Cleveland Heights or Mayfield taking on Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward High on Saturday.

"We are in court this morning, which could include several courts. We'll keep pursuing this as much as we can and we'll keep everyone updated as much as we can," Stried told the Plain Dealer.

And if the mess isn't sorted out by game time? Then both games would be postponed, potentially hijacking the traditional state playoff timeline in the process.

Meanwhile, no one is more disappointed in the playoff delay -- and potential postseason exclusion -- than Edgewood. The school had never qualified for the state playoffs before and reportedly sold t-shirts and bus tickets to the school's first postseason game all week in anticipation of Friday night.

Now those tickets might go unused while a gaggle of lawyers for the OHSAA and four different school districts battle out an enormous mess that could have been avoided if the state governing body's bylaws had just been a bit more clear.

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