Later today on New Year's Eve, Oklahoma and Clemson will kick off this year's College Football Playoff in the Orange Bowl. Will you be watching? If you are a college football fan, probably - but only if you have the day off. Some people take vacation this week anyway, but for many people, New Years' Eve is a workday. The business world isn't taking the day off; the New York Stock Exchange is open regular hours, as are banks.
Academics and sportswriters seemed to be caught off guard last season when fans started to complain about the "New Years Six" bowls being played during the workday. That's a matter of perspective: for journalists who cover college football, every day is a football day after Christmas. And for academics, the games fall smack dab in the middle of the break between semesters. But last year, the three bowls that got bumped to New Years' Eve saw double-digit drops in viewership. Defenders of the playoff will point out that ESPN set a New Years' Eve ratings record last year, but that's not an apples-to-apples comparison. Prior to the College Football Playoff, New Year's Eve was home to the Independence and Liberty Bowls. Something's amiss when you compare a bowl that was once sponsored by Weed Eater and is played in Shreveport with a game played in Jerry Jones' palace in Arlington, Texas.
So why are these playoff games being played on New Year's Eve? Quite simply, because the organizers of college football think they can:
"I really think the College Football Playoff will change the paradigm for New Year's Eve," said playoff executive director Bill Hancock.
They actually think that two traditions of American life: New Year's Eve celebrations and college football can somehow merge together. Witness Jimmy Kimmel's football themed Auld Lang Syne:
Except that, well, that's going to wear well with significant others who consider New Year's Eve a night for drinking, dancing and other merriment. Not sitting on a couch watching football. More than one college football fan will be facing the dilemma of having to choose between watching the game on a DVR afterwards, or burning up their data plan watching the games on their iPhone (and hoping that they can get away with it).
I mean, the college football world ridicules people for scheduling weddings on fall Saturday's, and then college football decides to schedule two of the three biggest games of the season on what is the biggest party night of the entire year.
Just like there are other options for weddings, there are other options for the college football playoff. In fact, we've done them before. When the playoff was under discussion, Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor Harvey Perlman would talk about "taking back New Year's Day" and threatened to go back to the old format for bowl games.
Hey, in terms of scheduling, that would be awesome. Remember what New Year's Day was like more than 20 years ago? Back before the BCS and multiple ESPN networks, there was one day of the year when you could overdose on college football: New Year's Day. During the regular season, each Saturday got you a game on CBS and ABC, and then a couple more on ESPN.
On January 1, 1994, we had eight of 'em:
10 am: Hall of Fame Bowl (now "Outback"), Tampa; Michigan vs. North Carolina, ESPN
Noon: Citrus Bowl, Orlando; Penn State vs. Tennessee, ABC
Noon: Fiesta Bowl, Tempe; Arizona vs. Miami, NBC
12:30 pm: Carquest Bowl (now defunct), Miami; Boston College vs. Virginia, CBS
3:30 pm: Cotton Bowl, Dallas; Notre Dame vs. Texas A&M, NBC
4 pm: Rose Bowel, Pasadena; Wisconsin at UCLA, ABC
7 pm: Orange Bowl, Miami; Florida State vs. Nebraska, NBC
7:30 pm: Sugar Bowl, New Orleans; Florida vs. West Virginia, CBS
It was a channel flipper's delight...or you drug out the TV from the kitchen or bedroom and set it up on a card table next to the 25" console in the living room. It was glorious. (Well, except for the horrible, fraudulent officiating.)
Now we get this same effect nearly every Saturday, with games on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and Fox. Sometimes we get bonus games on CBS, ESPNU, FS1 and NBC as well. We know all about it, and we like it. Scratch that: we love it. But for some bizarre reason, when New Years comes around, we have to run all of the games single file. You get one game and one game only.
Just like college football was in the 1970s.
The traditional Rose Bowl timeslot in late afternoon is sacrosanct to the folks in Pasadena, Ann Arbor and Columbus, so it can't be moved. But why is the Sugar Bowl locked into New Year's Night? And even if it is, why can't the other games fit in around the Rose and Sugar Bowls? We did it for years, and got the games televised when there really were only four networks capable of televising football games. Now ESPN has an entire family of networks at their disposal; why not put the other games on ESPN2 or ABC? The only requirement that should really exist is not having the two playoff games on simultaneously.
This isn't that difficult. We do it every football Saturday, and more importantly: WE LIKE IT. We really do. If a game is a stinker, we flip the channels. And if there are two good games going on, we go back and forth and wear out the remote. It's actually more exciting.
It's the way we like to watch football. And it beats the hell out of matching your jersey and cummerbund.