In the second year of the College Football Playoff, the two semifinal games were played for the first time on New Year’s Eve and took a ratings bath compared to the inaugural edition of the new system to determine a national champion. Even in the face of a significant ratings decline and the calls from most corners to move the semifinals off New Year’s Eve, the powers that be have (stubbornly) remained steadfast in creating a new “holiday tradition.”
The ratings, though, have forced the powerbrokers of the game to make a couple of tweaks.
The CFP announced Monday morning that the start times for the two semifinal games following the 2016 season, the Fiesta Bowl and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, will be 3 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET on the last day of 2016 — which games will start when will be determined when the four semifinalists are selected. Last year’s semifinals, the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl, had 4 p.m. ET and 8 p.m. ET start times.
Additionally, the CFP announced that the Orange Bowl will be played on Friday night, Dec. 30. It had originally been scheduled for noon on Jan. 2.
Also, because New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, as well as the Cotton Bowl, will be played on Jan. 2. The Rose Bowl will maintain its traditional early evening time slot, while the Sugar Bowl will once again begin in primetime.
While the tweaking of the start times for the semifinal matchups is a start, it likely still won’t quell the outpouring of criticism that they need to be moved off New Year’s Eve entirely. That said, the CFP remains entrenched with their stance that, come hell, high water or an even further ratings decline, they are petulantly sticking with the holiday games.
“As we committed earlier this year, we have looked at the landscape for the upcoming season and are confident that this change will make it easier for more fans to watch the games on television and also will benefit fans who will attend the games in person,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said. “The semifinals will be played on Saturday for the first time. The Capital One Orange Bowl will be in an evening time slot, which is its tradition. …
“The first two years have shown us that the playoff is extremely popular with fans and that we successfully struck an appropriate balance creating a new event while maintaining the great traditions that have enabled college football to hold such an important place in the country’s culture.
“When the playoff was created, we intended to respect tradition while growing the game and the fan base. That will continue to be an important element of our focus in the future.
The overnight ratings for the 2015 semifinals were 9.9 (Cotton, Alabama-Michigan State) and 9.7 (Orange, Clemson-Oklahoma). The year before, the semifinals brought in 15.5 (Rose, Oregon-Florida State) and 15.3 (Sugar, Ohio State-Alabama) overnight ratings.