Fewer college football bowl games on New Years Day opens up possibilities for other sports to capture fan interest. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
At one time in the college football playoff discussion, the idea of "taking back New Year's Day" was raised. Until the mid 1990's, New Year's Day was a veritable feast for college football fans. In those days, there were 8-9 different bowl games played on New Year's Day, and all were televised nationwide. In the morning and early afternoon, there were usually three or four games on, followed by the Rose Bowl (go grab dinner since only Big Ten and Pac-10 fans really cared about that one), then the really big games: the Orange and Sugar Bowls which typically decided the national championship.
It was more football than fans would see on any other day of the year. During the regular season, fans usually got a couple of games on ABC and CBS, and usually a couple others on cable. You got what you got, and watching your team on television was an uncommon treat. Then the tables reversed: the NCAA and College Football Association's television contracts expired, and the games on television exploded as more and more games were broadcast. Meanwhile, the Bowl Alliance and the Bowl Championship Series slowly began moving games off of New Years Day.
Last year, only six bowl games were played on New Years' Day, and only one game (the Outback Bowl) was on a broadcast network. One was on the lightly-viewed ESPNU, generally only available on digital cable and satellite. And alternate programming, such as the NHL's Winter Classic outdoor hockey game, was gaining traction, drawing eyeballs and interest away from college football on what had been it's day.So the new bowl lineup and playoff is supposed to change that. Television networks are going to line up to bid on televising the new playoff system, which will bring in megabucks to college football.
Well, that's what we thought would happen. But it's not.
We're seeing the same insider deals and "business as usual" mentality resuming. Last week, the Big Ten and Pac-12 extended their deal with the Rose Bowl. That shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. What was a surprise is that ESPN also signed an extension with the Rose Bowl through 2026. And the Rose Bowl would be locked into the traditional 4 pm central time kickoff on January 1st (or 2nd, when New Years Day is a Sunday).
Then on Tuesday, the Orange Bowl announced an agreement where an ACC team would play in Miami on New Year's afternoon, with a noon central time kickoff. Furthermore, the ACC will control the broadcasting rights for the Orange Bowl.
There won't be any bidding frenzy for the new playoff system. It's going to be the same system of backroom, silent deals that enrich the bowl organizers to the detriment of the universities.
More interesting details are starting to emerge. The Champions Bowl (site to be determined) between the highest available Big XII and SEC teams will be played at night on New Years' Day. The other three bowls: the Fiesta, Sugar, and the sixth bowl, seem to be headed towards New Years' Eve for a broadcast. And then this little detail: the Rose and Champions Bowls may not even be part of the rotation for the semifinal. On one hand, that's good for maintaining the tradition. But if the Rose and Champions are not in the rotation to be a semifinal host, then most years, both semifinal games will be played on New Years Eve.
Is that reclaiming New Year's Day for college football? Hardly.
And let's remember that if college football decides to run triple-headers on December 31st and January 1st of the biggest games, there probably won't be any other bowl games those days. Unless, of course, somebody decides to kick off a game at 9 am central time New Years morning. (That should be a real popular kickoff time.) And unless it's the Orange Bowl's turn for a semifinal or has a nationally relevant matchup, the NHL's Winter Classic has an even better chance to get more eyeballs towards hockey. College football will still outpace hockey in the ratings, but if there is only one bowl game on in the afternoon, and it's a bad game, fans will reach for the remote. Today, there are a couple of other options, but it looks like those go away on January 1st, 2015.
New Years Day used to be a great day of college football. It was the day people grabbed every portable television set they had in the house and moved them to the living room so they could watch all of the games. Now, we're spoiled by that every week of the season. This fall, we'll have primetime games on ABC, Fox, FSN regional, ESPN, and ESPN2 nationally. Plus even more on NBC Sports Network, ESPNU, BTN, and other cable networks. Yet on New Years Day, we're only going to have three or four bowl games?
That's not taking back New Year's Day.