Twenty years ago, New Years Day was quite a bit different than it is today. It was the one day of the year when you could overdose on college football all day long. As you were waking up from New Years' Eve, the Hall of Fame Bowl (later to be renamed the Outback Bowl) was kicking off on ESPN. As noon approached, the Fiesta and Florida Citrus Bowls kicked off on NBC and ABC. Then the Cotton Bowl hit the airwaves on CBS. Four games being broadcast simultaneously only happened once a year: New Years Day.
Mind you, this was before ESPN2 and the regional Fox Sports channels began broadcasting. Back then, football fans only got four or five football games on television each week. A game on ABC, a game on CBS, a primetime game on ESPN, and maybe a syndicated game in the early afternoon. That was it. So when New Years Day came, it was pretty special.
It was so much football overkill that you didn't mind that after that, the Rose Bowl (aka the "Irrelevant Yawner Bowl") was the only game on in the late afternoon. It was that chance to take a break, get something to eat, and get ready for the big games: the Orange and Sugar Bowl, also played simultaneously on national television. And more often than not, one of those primetime games usually determined the national championship. So if one of the games was a blowout, you just flipped to another game.
Today, we do that every Saturday. We get tripleheaders on ESPN and ESPN2. Prime-time games on ABC and Fox. And more games on FSN, BTN, NBCSN, and Fox Sports 1. What we used to enjoy on New Years Day is now every Saturday.
And now, thanks to the College Football Playoff, New Years Day is now like a Saturday 40 years ago. You get one game. And it had better be a good one, because there won't be another one for four more hours.
Three games on New Years Eve: The Peach Bowl starts the afternoon, followed by the Fiesta and Orange Bowls while you are out at your New Years Eve party. That's it. The Sun and Liberty Bowls move to other days, as do all of the other bowl games you typically watched that day.
Likewise, the New Years Day lineup shrinks as well, as the Gator Bowl and Heart of Dallas Bowls move elsewhere. The Cotton Bowl slides in, and the Rose and Sugar Bowls establish themselves as the closing attractions for the day. Some people take comfort that this year, those two games also represent the national semifinals, which is good. But that's just this year; in 2015 and 2016, the semifinals move to New Years Eve.
And thus making New Years Day a day to nurse a hangover. Or maybe watch hockey, now that the NHL's Winter Classic has grabbed prominence. Will fans simply tune out to both days games? It's a very real possibility. I remember when the Bowl Alliance tried to push a major bowl to New Years Eve in the middle 90's, and how that failed miserably. The 1996 Orange Bowl between Nebraska and Virginia Tech set a modern record for worst attendance; the official attendance was 51,212. As someone who actually attended that game, that figure was extremely generous. I suspect the true attendance was probably under 30,000 on that New Years Eve.
In this day and age of digital cable and DVR's, football fans are used to flipping between games to look for the best game. The NCAA embraced this phenomenon for the basketball tournament by giving us March Madness on four different networks. But college football has somehow turned the clock back to the days of Bill Flemming and Chris Schenkel. Two days, eight games.
It's unclear where all the other bowl games will land. The Gator Bowl is headed to January 2. The Sun Bowl is headed to December 27. I suspect that we'll get a full schedule of games on the Saturday after Christmas, because the NFL will be limiting themselves that week to only Sunday. Likewise, we'll see a game or two squeezed in before the NFL playoffs the first two Saturdays of January, as the National Championship game won't be played until January 12th.
Having "bowl week" stretch for nearly three weeks between Christmas week and January 12th isn't such a bad thing. But deep down, I remember those fantastic New Years Days from the past, and wonder why we can't have that back again.