USA Today and Sports Business Journal report that both ESPN and the NFL are asking the College Football Playoff to alter the schedule for future games. This year's initial edition delivered huge ratings on ESPN, as it represented a near perfect-storm of favorable circumstances. The teams were all name teams (Alabama, Ohio State, defending national champion Florida State, and trendy Oregon) and the games were played during the ideal late afternoon and evening timeslots on New Years' Day.
2016 might be a different matter entirely. The semifinal games shift to the Cotton and Orange Bowls and will be played on New Years' Eve. The Rose and Sugar Bowls were grandfathered into the late afternoon and evening timeslots on New Years' Day, so two out of three years, the playoff semifinals will be played on the 31st.
For college football die-hards and the media, that's not a big deal. One day is the same as another.
But for the casual fan, that's a problem. For most people, New Years' Eve is not a holiday, but actually a work day. Probably more people have the day after Thanksgiving off than New Years' Eve. Which turned out to be a surprise to some media members last month.
Media starting to "get it" MT @slmandel Wow. Respondents overwhelmingly say this is a regular work day. Lot of streaming for TCU Ole Miss.— Husker Mike (@Husker_Mike) December 31, 2014
ESPN now recognizes this and is looking to move the New Years' Eve games to Saturday, January 2, 2016. The NFL doesn't play that day, and rightly assumes that more fans will watch when there aren't distractions like work and New Years' Eve celebrations at the same time. ("No, honey! We can't go to your friend's house for her New Years' Eve party! The game is that night! Wait, what do you mean you'll have to find a date instead?")
While using Saturday, January 2nd will work for 2016, I doubt it's a long term solution. Most years, New Year's Eve will fall during a workweek, and it's going to be a battle to squeeze the games in around the traditions of New Years'.
Especially when the tradition has been to play all of these games on New Years' Day. Twenty years' ago, there were only a handful of games televised each week. It was only New Years' Day when football fans could engorge themselves with football, with two or three games on simultaneously.
Now, nearly every game is televised, and most of the time, we have games simultaneously on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and Fox. CBS and NBC usually have a game or two on as well. Add in the various cable channels, and we're used to watching a half-dozen or more games at the same time.
Except on New Years' Day, when ESPN lines up all the games and marches them through single file through the schedule. Getting bored with watching TCU and Oregon wipe the field in a blowout? Too bad... there's no other games on.
It doesn't have to be that way. Between ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC, the Worldwide Leader has enough space to schedule all of these games on January 1. And wouldn't it be cool to stagger the start times so that like the NCAA basketball tournament, there's always a game on - and almost always a great finish somewhere to be seen. Go ahead and play the semifinal games in the late afternoon and evening so they aren't on at the same time.
The NFL has also chimed in with a plan to expand the Wild Card round of the playoffs with two more games, and they are looking to put one of the added games on Monday night. That Monday night, as of late, has been the traditional timeslot of the national championship game in the BCS and Playoff era. The NFL would sure like to see college football slide over to Tuesday or Wednesday night to open up Monday night, but the NFL doesn't exactly need college football to move over.
On any given Sunday, the NFL finds a way to schedule games in three timeslots a day. (The last couple of years, they've actually scheduled games in four timeslots. This year, a morning game in London was televised, and in 2013, an Oakland-San Diego game was moved to 10:30 pm central time so that the stadium could be reconfigured from a playoff baseball game.) Do the same for the first round of the NFL playoffs: a game at 11:30 am, a game at 3:15 pm, and another in primetime at 7 pm.