As near as I can remember the timeline, it took the NCAA about 60 million years to finally agree to host a four-team playoff in college football. And as soon as they finally got it going, it was the best thing ever.
But after only one year of success, they managed to start screwing things up. In 2015, the NCAA held the national semifinals on New Year’s Eve, and cost themselves millions of viewers in the process. They did the same thing in 2016, although slightly improving things by having the games start at 3pm and 7pm eastern time to ensure they were both over before it was party time.
I’m a family guy who has two kids under the age of five and a host of relatives from all over place plus far-flung friends who try and get together over the holidays. Plus, my wife and I try to get out of the house once every two or three months for an actual date night.
So why, oh why, dear NCAA, must you continue to hold the best college football games of the year on New Year’s Eve?
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The TV ratings plummeted from 2014 to 2015 because of this scheduling glitch. Sure, people in bars across the country might have been watching the second game as they rang in the New Year, but the Nielsen numbers for home viewership titled under 10 million people, a staggering decline considering how many college football fans there are across the country.
Ratings were up during the semifinals this year, despite both being fairly one-sided games with both Alabama and Clemson holding Washington and Ohio State at arm’s length, respectively. The games paled in comparison to several of the lesser college football bowls, in particular the Rose Bowl, which were played on Monday, January 2, which, while a holiday recognized by banks and government offices, was back to work for millions of professionals and school districts meaning: streaming the game on your computer while your boss wasn’t looking instead of sitting on the couch devouring nachos and beer.
You’d think it would be hard to screw up something like what days to play the bowl games on, but this is the NCAA we’re talking about. Their biggest problem this year was a morbid fear of stepping on the NFL’s toes, since January 1 was a Sunday, the last week of the regular season for the NFL. In that instance, the logical thing to do would have been to play the other bowl games all day Saturday—with the late games being the sacrificial New Year’s Eve lambs. NFL games would follow on Sunday, allowing the NCAA to get the whole stage to itself by putting one game Sunday night and the other on Monday night, doubling their ratings and giving everyone a chance to see both winning teams in actions, thus driving the hype up for next week’s title game.
What the NCAA and the TV networks failed to recognize here is that as much as people like watching football, they like going out and consuming alcohol much, much more. Football is a niche sport, college football even more so since 99 percent of the viewing audience didn’t go to any of the four schools involved. But ringing in the New Year? Everybody can participate in that.