Awful CFP semifinal ratings show sport still lacks common sense

·Columnist

College Football Playoff executives said they were going to change the paradigm of New Year's Eve in America and instead Americans changed the paradigm of the College Football Playoff.

Many of them didn't watch.

There are 12.5 million reasons why 12.5 million fewer people tuned into the first semifinal game this year than last. There's another 10 million why they didn't watch the second one.

The most obvious is that they moved the games from New Year's Day to New Year's Eve and then told their customers to deal with it.

It was an act of arrogance, of course, but also ignorance because the bubble in which these suits exist doesn't lend to interaction with folks who have jobs that don't take place in corner offices, you know, places where "just stream it on your smart phone" isn't an option.

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock poses in front of the championship trophy. (AP)
College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock poses in front of the championship trophy. (AP)

You move an event from a national holiday synonymous with the sport to the middle of a workday for many and this is what happens – ratings drop as much as 45 percent. Double that by placing a second game on a night with endless entertainment options and longstanding traditions and you're completely spitting in the face of many of your fans.

They ran months of Jimmy Kimmel ads telling people to change everything but the party in the commercial didn't even have a single television for people at the party to actually watch football. So not even the mascots were tuning in.

(Kimmel tweeted out a video from New Year's Eve of him counting down to midnight with Howard Stern and Billy Joel at some concert, so he apparently didn't plan accordingly either.)

So that's one explanation. Just 12,499,999 more to go.

The New Year's Eve experience was a two-fold disaster. Not only did millions fewer people watch the playoff games, but it sucked all the life out of New Year's Day. Normally the Jan. 1 games serve as a lead-in to the big game (like they did even during the BCS and last year); now they just feel like exhibitions.

Sure, some of the bowl games turned into complete duds – Stanford jumped Iowa so viciously that when the Cardinal Band mockingly played a halftime tribute to FarmersOnly.com, it felt mean. (Not really, it was still funny.)

That doesn't fully explain the 7.9 rating – the lowest on record (dating back to 1983). Blowouts don't normally cause such terrible disinterest. There's been a million of them. Consider the 2009 Rose Bowl: it was a game with no national title implications, USC led Penn State 31-7 in the first half and it was never competitive (a couple late, meaningless scores caused the final to be USC 38-24). People still watched – 20.6 million of them, or 10 percent more than either of this year's semifinals.

The playoff is still controlled by the bowls, or commissioners who are beholden to the bowls. They gave those sites essentially no bid contracts to stage massively profitable games that the sport pointlessly outsources to them.

You can never prevent lopsided games. They happen. You can schedule to limit their impact. The whole sport seemed to stop dead in its tracks a little after halftime of Alabama-Michigan State. New Year's Day was an afterthought.

That's how it is though and how it will stay.

The Rose Bowl says it won't move from 5 p.m. ET on New Year's Day. The Sugar Bowl says it won't move from later that night. Why would they? It's easy money.

The commissioners are fine with it because four leagues make a few more million and no one is looking out for the common good.

Next year New Year's Eve will be on a Saturday, which is a huge benefit (and will deliver ratings increases that the playoff will take credit for). But the Rose, et al, won't get staged for two days, after an NFL Sunday. Strange won't begin to describe it. Soon enough it'll be back to weekday/workday.

A lot of people missed Nick Saban and Alabama walloping Michigan State on Thursday. (AP)
A lot of people missed Nick Saban and Alabama walloping Michigan State on Thursday. (AP)

They could just make the Rose and Sugar permanent semifinal sites, but then four other bowls wouldn't be able to profit wildly off this. If there is one thing to know about major college athletics, it's that the graft needs to be spread around (except to the players … unless forced by a federal judge).

How much, for instance, did their buddy who runs the Sugar Bowl make in 2014? How's $753,546, per tax records. A second guy made $494,589. It's nice work if you play golf with a commissioner who will allow it.

Whatever. You get what you get, a dud of a couple days of football and a lot of predictable excuses.

"That decline, frankly, is not much of a surprise and it's modest," playoff executive director Bill Hancock told the Associated Press.

A 45 percent drop in viewers for one semifinal? Record lows for the Rose Bowl? No buzz? Inconvenienced customers? Others who simply took the whole thing as a slap in the face?

It's all just a modest non-surprise to these guys. They expected 12.5 million of you wouldn't/couldn't watch. They didn't care.

They should schedule the playoff so the other bowls serve as a buildup to semifinals that begin on New Year's Day afternoon, when far fewer people have to work and far more people are desperate to watch this grand sport surge to a crescendo.

Why is that too much to ask?

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