First of all, we’re going to start this bi-annual rant with a win: The College Football Playoff championship game time, which kicked off at the much-too-late hour of 8:15 p.m. ET last year, kicked off this season at 7:30 p.m. ET and, for my own central time comfiness, 6:30 p.m. We’ve got to celebrate the small victories!
But there’s still work to be done, so, alas, we enter this edition of the bi-annual rant.
Despite Ohio State not being part of the College Football Playoff Championship, like many, I was still intrigued by the matchup of Georgia vs. TCU. It was a much more exciting game, heading in at least, than yet another dual-SEC pairing, and it was cool that a Playoff newcomer with a Heisman finalist at the helm would be playing instead.
It didn’t take long for the game itself to turn into a snoozer, with Georgia quickly dominating. And because it was a Monday, I was not willing to stay up late to watch more of the same when the outcome was already well-established by the first quarter (and before my bedtime).
Real quick: We all love our Monday Night Football (or, at least, the Manning Cast of Monday Night Football), but when it’s the championship game of the season, there have to be better times for it than when many are wrapping up their 9-5 jobs on the first day of the work week.
As I said this time last year, no one is hosting any parties or making apps or hanging out after the game is over when they have to wake up for four more days of work. It’s just hard to switch from work mode to getting excited and invested in a game. And no, I am not a night owl, and I’m a big fan of an early bedtime.
But more importantly, let’s address the elephant in the room: As the College Football Playoff approaches its expansion in coming years, there will be inevitable conflicts with the final weeks of the NFL season. High-profile Playoff games in particular will compete with NFL games, a harrowing battle between broadcast networks and ESPN for eyeballs. As viewers, we’re faced with the possibility of choosing between the CFP and the conclusion of the NFL season. (And when we’re entering a period of football drought, that’s not a decision we want to have to make!)
At present, bowl games already compete with the NFL schedule, but certainly not any bowl games with broader implications — because the only ones that have implications currently are the College Football Playoff semi-finals. What will be the plan moving forward, however, when Playoff games simply must be played during the same time period as late-season NFL games which probably have playoff implications of their own?
The solution doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game because this scheduling conundrum opens up interesting possibilities. As the NFL encroaches into Saturdays late in the season, Thursday and Friday night games become more palatable. High school football has been over for a minute and with the holiday season in full swing at that point, these times still might feel like primetime weekend games. It would certainly be better than the afternoon slot on Saturday which the NFL has also usurped. Considering ESPN has branded a special edition of Monday Night Football to host a wild-card game, a Thursday or Friday night CFP game feels not just palatable but preferable.
Consider the alternative. The FCS Championship, a decisive win from South Dakota State over North Dakota State, took place Sunday and directly competed with the final week of the NFL season, including games with playoff implications that drew eyeballs. Despite the time slot, the FCS matchup was a good one, and if it would have been played at a different time might have garnered more mainstream attention. In an expanded CFP, competing directly against the NFL will lead to inevitable attrition, which is not good for college football.
This year’s College Football Playoff semi-finals netted the largest audiences in five years. Of course they did, because Ohio State draws eyeballs. Comparatively, the Rose Bowl had the lowest ratings in years with just 10.2 million viewers tuning in to see Penn State beat Utah. Imagine the ratings in just a few short years when all the New Year’s Six bowls matter — as long as they’re not played after my bedtime on Mondays.