The College Football Playoff semifinals are being staged this year on New Year’s Eve.
Yes, New Year’s Eve.
This is confusing to everyone because New Year’s Day is a great time for a couple big games and New Year’s Eve is a horrible one – at least if you are one of the many people who A) have to work, or B) have other plans that night. In other words, tens of millions of you.
So why is this happening? Why is college football staging its semifinals at a time that everyone predicts will cause fewer people to watch?
Here’s the honest answer: the people who run college football don’t care about you. At all. Like, not one single bit.
It may not make sense, but that’s the answer.
“We’re establishing a new tradition,” playoff executive director Bill Hancock said. “We're going to change the paradigm of New Year’s Eve.”
Except, no one is trying to establish a new tradition here. They are honoring two of the oldest traditions in America … self-indulgence and cronyism.
The conference commissioners who run the sport may not care about or even consider you, the fan, but they do care deeply about bowl executives, usually old friends who have been plying them with free everything – golf, gifts, booze, hotels, Caribbean cruises, you name it – for decades.
They really, really love those guys. Love them so much that when they designed the playoff they made sure, out of the goodness of their hearts, to continue outsourcing their most profitable games to them.
They love all bowl games but they love none quite like the Rose Bowl.
As such, they would never dare make the Rose Bowl move its kickoff time from 5 p.m. ET on Jan. 1 – you know, that perfect time to watch a big game. That’s when the start of the semifinal doubleheader should always be played. One out of every three years, when the Rose Bowl is a host, it is.
Yet in the other two years the Rose Bowl still gets the best time slot even if the game, such as this year, can only be considered “big” if you’re from Iowa. Meanwhile, the Sugar Bowl has somehow been granted exclusivity to the equally coveted primetime slot on New Year’s Day, even if it’s hosting Ole Miss-Oklahoma State and the five losses between them.
Oklahoma-Clemson and Michigan State-Alabama, the games that actually matter, get the less desirable times the day before.
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Again, this makes no sense. It’s the reality though. In college football the Rose Bowl gets to call the shots. It just does. In any other sport, or any other business, executives would either tell them to move or just crush them with counter programming.
Instead, college football decision-makers tell the fans to get lost while gleefully allowing the bowls to lead them around by the nose.
Conference commissioners are like that desperate guy in every Cialis commercial, blithely going for boring hikes through the foliage or freezing while holding hands in his and her tubs overlooking a valley ("You want me to take a bath in the damn woods?"). It’s all in the pitiful hope that their favorite bowl executive will give them that look that says the time is right.
Oh Rose Bowl, of course I’ll kick off a semifinal at 1 p.m. on a workday on the West Coast. And yes, I’ll absolutely not care about people, mostly younger, who have long-established plans or work that evening – in restaurants or transportation or staffed-up hospitals or wherever. I know you're not a school, a conference or in any way part of the NCAA, but let's go have a long, meaningful talk over a hot cup of tea.
The other option would be to just grant the Rose and Sugar Bowl permanent semifinal hosting status, maintaining New Year’s Day as the day for the semifinals. That would be true love, but it would also prevent spreading the graft out to four other bowl sites.
Extra palms. Extra grease.
Don’t blame ESPN. It knows its ratings will drop. The network fought this originally – literally stunned it was even a consideration. Later it lobbied to move, for this year only, the semifinals to Saturday, Jan. 2.
The NFL is staging all its Week 17 games on Sunday, Jan. 3, so Saturday is wide open. It's absolutely perfect if you care about, say, trying to make it as convenient as possible for fans to either watch on TV or travel to a game.
"We understand and appreciate their interest in this," Hancock said in a statement last January. “The fact is that we have started a new tradition … we're not interested in changing.”
Don't worry, Saturday night they'll give you the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl instead. So there's that.
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Look, these guys aren’t really in tune with anything but the hardest core segment of their fan base – the fanatical booster that will find a way. And, yes, many people will still watch. I'm one of them. It’s easy for me to be there though because this is my job. Most really big-time fans will find time too. Some others will – those who usually stay in on New Year’s Eve (then again, if you stay in on New Year’s Eve, you also stay in on New Year’s Day too).
Many won’t though and that’s rough for them. Some will try and fail to carve out eight hours of football viewing under relationship duress. Some will be stuck at nightclubs or weddings or a couples' function. Others just have to earn an honest living. These people are a mystery to the commissioners, whose work entails watching college football and therefore seem to assume everyone can watch while on the job. Look, Mr. Police Officer, just stream it on your tablet. Those drunk drivers can handle themselves.
As for entertainment options, for these guys, New Year’s Eve has long been about whatever bowl director is springing for the single malts and medium rares. Conceptually, a party is being at some other old person’s house where the TV can easily show the game, especially since they can’t seem to figure out what channel Dick Clark is on anyway.
“It might be a great way to bring more women to college football,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany reasoned to the Chicago Tribune. “We can build our audience.”
OK, then. Delany is the same guy who runs a Midwest-based league but didn’t want any semifinals played in the Midwest because he has too much love for the old bowls and old bowl directors in the South and West. Forget seeking a competitive advantage for his teams or bringing big-event revenue to the region or caring about how costly the travel is for his own league’s fans.
Really, this is your fault. You should have planned accordingly. They warned you by running that commercial with Jimmy Kimmel and a host of characters sadly singing "Auld Lang Syne" at a New Year’s Eve party.
It’s a weird spot and not just because, as SB Nation pointed out, the UCLA mascot, Joe Bruin, tries to pick up a blonde party-goer while also having his arm wrapped around his steady, Josephine Bruin (now this is an adventurous way to ring in 2016).
Stranger is there are no TVs at the party in the commercial. In an effort to get you to watch the College Football Playoff on New Year's Eve, no one is watching the College Football Playoff on New Year's Eve.
Apparently Jimmy Kimmel has other things to do, too.