College Football Playoff moving most future semis off Dec. 31

Posted at 3:24 PM, Jul 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-28 15:35:29-04
(AP) -- The College Football Playoff has abandoned a plan to play most of its semifinals on New Year's Eves after television ratings tumbled last year, moving the dates of future games to ensure they will be played either on a weekend or a holiday.
The changes will start with the 2018 season. The TV ratings for last year's games played on Thursday, Dec. 31, dropped 36 percent from the semifinals played the season before on New Year's Day.
This season's semifinals are still set for Saturday, Dec. 31. Next season's playoff is scheduled to be back on Jan. 1. After 2018, the games initially scheduled to be played on New Year's Eve, will now be played Saturday, Dec. 29.
The 2019 games will move to Saturday, Dec. 28.
"We had a healthy discussion with a lot of people who love college football and we concluded that making these changes would be the right thing to do for our fans," College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock said in a statement.
The first College Football Playoff set ratings records for ESPN after the 2014 season. The semifinals were played at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, with the first game kicking off at about 5:20 p.m. ET.
The semifinals moved to New Year's Eve last season, which is when they were scheduled to be played eight times throughout the 12-year contract the CFP signed with ESPN. The Rose and Sugar bowls are locked into those time slots on New Year's Day, so when the semifinals rotate to the other four bowl sites (Cotton, Fiesta, Peach or Orange) they would be played on Dec. 31 unless it landed on a Sunday.
College football officials said they were going to start a new tradition on New Year's Eve and that people would incorporate watching big games into their party plans. The initial returns showed that was not happening. Not only did the games have to compete with parties at night, but much of the country was still working when last season's games kicked off at 4:30 ET. That was 3:30 local time in Oklahoma for the Sooners matchup against Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
"We tried to do something special with New Year's Eve, even when it fell on a weekday," Hancock said. But after studying this to see if it worked, we think we can do better. These adjustments will allow more people to experience the games they enjoy so much. For these four years, our previous call is reversed."
ESPN's Burke Magnus, executive vice president, programming and scheduling, said the network, which owns the rights to playoff and all the bowls through which the semifinals rotate, was pleased with the decision.
"They did engage in a really thoughtful analysis of what could make the CFP more fan friendly and ultimately they got to the right place, which we're happy about," Magnus said.
Magnus said ESPN was not directly involved in the decision but provided research and data to the commissioners. They tried to quantify all the factors that likely contributed to the drop in rating, including a general dip in enthusiasm from year one to year two, the lopsided games last season as compared to the first playoff and the teams and players involved. The first playoff featured a matchup of two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks in Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston and huge brands Ohio State and Alabama in the other game.
Last season, Clemson pulled away in the second half against Oklahoma and Alabama shut out Michigan State in the late game at the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas.
Magnus said as best they could tell "without question" the games being played on New Year's Eve was the single greatest contributing factor in the decreased in television ratings.
He added other solutions were discussed, but this was ESPN's preference.
Giving the College Football Playoff a permanent home on New Year's Day seems ideal, but it is not going to happen. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, whose conference is partners with the Rose Bowl along with the Pac-12, said earlier this week the game would not be giving up its traditional time slot.
The Big 12 and Southeastern Conference now have a similar partnership with the Sugar Bowl, which like the Rose Bowl has a separate contract with ESPN that locks up the time slot after the Rose Bowl. So playing the semifinals before and after the Rose Bowl was out, too.