Columbus Makes Case For State Title Games

The city of Columbus and Ohio State rolled out the red (scarlet?) carpet Tuesday when the Ohio High School Athletic Association site selection committee visited the state capital. Columbus is a finalist in the bidding to host state football finals in 2012-14.

The last time the city of Columbus attempted to lure the Ohio State High School Athletic Association football championships to the state capital in 2007, OHSAA Commissioner Dan Ross equated the attempt as a "warm-up shoot before the game."

Ross called this year's attempt a "full-court press."

Mixed sports metaphors aside, Ross said he was impressed by what he saw Tuesday when the Greater Columbus Sports Commission (GCSC) – along with help from Ohio State and local political figures – stated their case as to why the state finals should be moved from its longtime home in the Canton/Massillon area to the home of the Buckeyes in 2012-14. Ohio State had a big part to play in the final push. A gathering that included OSU athletic director Gene Smith, university president E. Gordon Gee, Brutus Buckeye and several members of the OSU Marching Band under the direction of Jon Woods greeted the visiting contingent as they entered Ohio Stadium.

"It was our own little pep rally," GCSC executive director Linda Logan said of the group that also included Columbus mayor Mike Coleman, Franklin County commissioner John O'Grady and other members of Columbus' hospitality community – complete with pom poms.

But arguably the biggest gun in Columbus' arsenal was not even used at the Horseshoe. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, who has been vocal about his hopes that the state finals would move to Columbus, gave the group a tour of the facilities at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center prior to its trek to Ohio Stadium.

"He's so passionate about Ohio high school football, and he's very much a historian," Logan said. "So anytime you can have someone like that on your team it goes a long way."

The GCSC is hoping to return the state championship games to Ohio Stadium for the first time since 1989. The championship games were held at the Horseshoe from 1982-89, and the games have been held in Stark County for the last 20 years, split between Fawcett Stadium in Canton and Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon.

Stark County wants to keep the games, and its bid is the only other finalist in the running after bids from Akron and Cincinnati, respectively, were cut.

The Columbus bid is a far cry from its last attempt in 2007. That proposal had the championship games being split between Crew Stadium in Columbus and Coffman High School in Dublin. That bid was seen as a long shot and not a threat to the Stark County efforts.

"We weren't as knowledgeable of the event as we probably should have been," Logan said of the '07 attempt. "Since then we've spent a lot more time understanding the needs of the teams and the administrators and what works best."

Ross agreed: "I think they took most of the feedback they had the last time we ventured to do this and they put most of the pieces in place. They've learned from that and have made some wise decisions."

One question still to be answered is how the games would be scheduled if Columbus' bid were to win. The current plan would be to split the six games over a three-day span, having two games apiece on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Ross said that is not set in stone, however.

"I think they're open (to playing all six games in two days)," he said. "We have not had the conversation about that yet, and that's coming next, but I believe from the original conversation that they would be very open to anything they thought would work well for the kids."

Overall, Ross came left Ohio Stadium impressed.

"They've done a very, very nice job of trying to pick up everything they think would make this a great environment and experience for young people," he said. "I think last time it was more, ‘How can we put this thing on?' This time they've paid a lot of attention to the details. They've done a very nice job.

"Both groups have."

Now the groups will have to wait for the final decision. The OHSAA site search committee meets June 9 and could make a recommendation to the OHSAA board of directors. The board, which has the final say, is scheduled to meet the next day, but don't necessarily expect a decision then. Ross said the final decision could come sometime in July.

"It will be intriguing, and I do honestly believe we have two very good venues," Ross said.

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