College Football Playoff finally realizes New Year's Eve maybe not best for games

HOOVER, Ala. -- Calling the precipitous TV ratings drop a "first-world problem," the College Football Playoff's top executive said moving the dates of semifinal games off New Year's Eve will be examined.

Ratings for the CFP Semifinals dropped 36 percent last year when the organization refused to move the games off Dec. 31, which was not just New Year's Eve but also a work day.

Clemson defeated Oklahoma and Alabama beat Michigan State on a Thursday afternoon and evening in games that were borderline ratings disasters.

The games hovered at just below at 10 rating point. The previous season's first CFP Semifinals (Florida State-Oregon and Ohio State-Alabama) drew a 15.5 and 15.3 rating, respectively.

The total number of viewers declined by as much as 40 percent.

"This is a first-world problem because millions of people watched the semifinals on New Year's Eve," said CFP executive director Bill Hancock, "just not as many watched the year before.

"We have time, but we will be thinking about whether New Year's Eve is the right way to go. What are the alternatives, which I don't want to get into. What might be best to give us the possibility of more fans being able to watch the games?"

ESPN reportedly lobbied the CFP to move the semis from Thursday, Dec. 31 to a more ratings friendly Saturday, Jan. 2. At the time, Hancock adamantly told media there would be no changes.

The CFP continually said it wanted to establish a "new tradition" on New Year's Eve.

"I probably mischaracterized that back in January," Hancock told reporters. "What I intended to say [was], 'We have to look at it ... Find the best day when the most people can watch the games."

The issue doesn't crop up again until the 2018 season. This year, New Year's Eve falls on a Saturday. The other three New Year's Six bowls will be played on Jan. 2, 2017, because of a Sunday conflict with the NFL.

After the 2017 season, the semifinals will be on Monday, Jan. 1, 2018 -- a holiday. A date for the other three New Year's Six bowls -- either before or after Jan. 1, 2018 -- has not been determined.

Following the 2018 season, New Year's Eve falls on a Monday. That's the next time the CFP, ESPN and advertisers have to worry.

ESPN already has moved up the start dates of the semifinals an hour from 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET to draw in more viewers.

The Orange Bowl has been moved from a Saturday afternoon New Year's Eve slot this year to prime time on Friday, Dec. 30.

Profit margin has apparently changed a lot of minds in moving the semis. SportsBusiness Journal reported advertisers were meeting with ESPN discussing "make-good advertising units" before the ratings were final.

Part of the issue is the tacit demand by the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl to play on Jan. 1. It is guaranteed in the CFP contract that the Rose Bowl will be played New Year's Day -- unless it falls on a Sunday -- each year whether it is hosting a semifinal game or not.

When the Rose Bowl got its way, the SEC and Big 12 partnered for their own Jan. 1 game in the Sugar Bowl.

Six CFP bowls rotate through the semifinals -- two at a time -- each season. This year, those bowls are the Peach (Atlanta) and Fiesta (Glendale, Arizona) on Dec. 31. The Cotton, Rose and Sugar will be played Monday, Jan. 2. The Orange kicks things off on Dec. 30.

Here is a list of dates for CFP Semifinals -- as it stands -- and national championship games through the term of the deal.

The 12-year CFP contract with ESPN has 10 years to run. The so-called host bowls -- Fiesta, Cotton and Peach -- will be reviewed after the 2019 season, Hancock said.

When asked what kind of interest there would be to replace any of those bowls from various cities, he replied, "Tremendous."

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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