College Football Playoff ends New Year’s Eve experiment

The College Football Playoff’s attempt to “change the paradigm of what New Year’s Eve is all about” is about to end.

Bill Hancock, the CFP’s executive director, told USA Today on Thursday that the national semifinals will be moved in four of the seven years when they were scheduled for Dec. 31. This past season’s national semifinals were held on New Year’s Eve and television ratings plummeted from the astronomical numbers garnered in the first year of the playoff, when the games were played on New Year’s Day.

Hancock previously had defended the New Year’s Eve scheduling and said there wouldn’t be any changes to the schedule.

“What it does is change the paradigm of what New Year’s Eve is all about,” he said in January 2014. “If you’re hosting a New Year’s Eve party, you better have a bunch of televisions around.”

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But that promise proved to be logically flawed, as TV ratings from last season’s CFP semifinals – played on New Year’s Eve, in this case a Thursday evening – dropped 40 percent. ESPN, which paid more than $7.3 billion for the rights to televise the games, could not have been pleased, and USA Today’s George Schroeder reports that the network “recently presented in-depth data to the Playoff’s management committee showing the holiday time slot was a major factor in the ratings decline.”

“We looked at the replay,” Hancock told Schroeder, “and we reversed the call.”

The change will not go into effect until the 2018-19 season because New Year’s Eve falls on a Saturday this year, which should help the games rebound in the ratings department. The 2017-18 semifinals will be played on New Year’s Day. After that, the games that were originally scheduled to be played on New Year’s Eve will be moved to the preceding Saturday except for the 2021 season, when New Year’s Eve is on a Friday and is considered the national New Year’s Day holiday, thus ensuring that many workers will get the day off.

The playoff’s scheduling dilemma stems directly from one fact: That the Rose and Sugar bowls are contractually guaranteed to be played on New Year’s Day and – spurred on by the conferences that have tie-ins to those games – refused to budge when it is their turn in the semifinal rotation.

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“The Big 12 and the SEC worked to establish a contract, an agreement that that’s when (the Sugar Bowl) would be played,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in January. “That is important to us and I think it’s clearly important to our fans.

“We’re going to protect that position.”

Hancock said Thursday that the protests from fans were noted.

“I heard, ‘I have to work,’ or ‘I wanted to go to a New Year’s Eve party,’ or ‘I was at a party but they wouldn’t let me turn the sound on,” Hancock said. “People love college football and they’re very opinionated about it. They’re happy to share their opinions. I enjoy hearing their opinions.

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“After the study, we just feel like this is in the best interest of fans. They want to experience these games, and we want them to. And these changes for four years will allow that to happen.”

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