I’m tired. It’s Wednesday, and I’m already tired. That’s because I was one of the few (well, 22+ million) who stayed up to watch at least through the third quarter of the College Football Playoff Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia on Monday night.
I even cheated and watched the game in bed. Predictably, I fell asleep, but woke up long enough in the fourth quarter to catch a replay of Georgia’s Kelee Ringo picking off Bryce Young to seal the win for the Bulldogs. I celebrated in my head, and then promptly fell back asleep.
Even while I’m griping, I recognize that I live in Central Time and benefit from the hour time difference that meant that the title game kicked off at 7:15 p.m. instead of 8:15 p.m. Still, the game wrapped up close to midnight on the east coast. Which brings us to the question that we’ve all been wondering for years: Why are championship games played on Monday nights?
No one’s hosting a party after work on a Monday night; no one’s making apps; no one’s hanging out afterwards to discuss the game and watch the trophy presentation, because we’re tired from our daily responsibilities and need to get ready to do it all over again for the rest of the work week. We can’t possibly be expected to get hyped up in the way that I do about games played on Saturdays or even Sundays.
Perhaps some of this is my fault. I am not a night owl, however, I do love a fall Saturday night where I can fall asleep during the fourth quarter of the Saturday night game and feel lucky if I can make it to watch the late Pac-12 kick. Heck, even Thursday night football — where I only have to drudge through one sleepy workday until the weekend — is pretty fun.
The viewership for this year’s title game was dismal and beats only last year in CFP championship viewership. On that note, as much as Ohio State has traditionally pulled in big television audiences, last year’s championship game (also held on a Monday) pulled in just 18.7 million viewers and many believe that Covid-19 impacted the excitement for the game.
We do have a direct comparison of what is essentially the same game as what we saw Monday: Alabama vs. Georgia in the SEC Title game drew 15.3 million viewers, while the national title game Monday night pulled in 22.6 million. The pure numbers are obviously larger, but for the sole game played on a day that’s the culmination of the entire season that theoretically should bring in fans nationwide? The ratings should have been higher.
By comparison (and yes I know it’s a bad comparison), the Super Bowl drew in 91.6 million viewers in 2021, which was the lowest viewership of the event since 2006. The Sunday afternoon time slot, which has been that way for decades, is as well worn and committed in our culture as fireworks on the Fourth of July. People plan parties. They make apps. They see friends and make a day out of it, whether they care about the teams involved or not.
Championship Monday just doesn’t carry the same weight at this point, nor does it feel like it ever will. Despite having less than a decade of data (the first CFP, as Ohio State fans will recall, was following the 2014 season), the distance from bowl season, lack of parity and many other factors make the championship itself less compelling.
There’s also the fact that the championship game is aired on cable television, which is not accessible in the way many other title games are.
Initially, it looked like the CFP might have its shot at a robust audience on Monday nights. The inaugural CFP Championship, played between Ohio State and Oregon on Jan. 12, 2015, drew nearly 34 million viewers. No other CFP game (semifinal or championship) has hit the 30 million mark. The next-most-viewed game was the 2018 championship between Alabama and Georgia, which pulled in 28.7 million viewers.
BCS games — without the fanfare of the playoff build-up to hype the four-team tango (Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” will forever be in my head) — regularly pulled in audiences of similar and even larger sizes for their title games. Heck, the 2002 Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Miami drew in 29.1 million viewers.
The most watched college football game of all-time was the BCS-era Rose Bowl National Title Game in 2005 between USC and Texas, which had 35.6 million viewers. It did happen to be held on a Wednesday for some reason, which is approximately 40% better than a Monday kick based on the number of days left in the work week.
It also doesn’t help that this particular Monday happened to be the day after the NFL regular season wrapped up, and the sports news cycle had more noise about Black Monday’s coaching vacancies and NFL Playoff matchups than discussion of the college championship game at hand.
Making the CFP Title Game’s timing even more confounding is the fact that it comes on the heels of the holiday season, when folks may be disenchanted from another late night or event. People are still full from weeks of non-stop eating, but in that grey winter post-holiday period where another night of fanfare and merriment feels superfluous and sad.
In other words, who is going to host a watch party on a Monday night? Young fans (read: children) can’t get into the game because anything past the first quarter is past their bedtime. For old, ill-tempered fans like myself, it sets us up in a bad way for the rest of the week. It would have been awesome to be fully awake and engaged for the entirety of the game, but I have a job that doesn’t love the excuse of, “Sorry I’m late, I was watching a game between two teams about whom I have no vested interest.”
Monday Night Football is fun, no doubt, but I firmly stay up for one game a year — or at least until the Browns have effectively played themselves out of it.
Of course, this problem is not isolated to the College Football Playoff. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament wraps up on a Monday night as well. Fortunately, the finals for the women’s tournament are scheduled to be held on a Sunday in 2022. Then again, basketball games are much shorter, so it feels like less of an intrusion to have a weeknight game.
Anyway, I hope this is something the college football powers that be can resolve in the future. In the interim, I’ll be catching up on my sleep.