Friday, January 1, 2016

Auld Lang Syne: The Playoff Was Forgot(ten)

So much internet mileage has been spent lambasting the College Football Playoff Committee for its inane and asinine decision to put the playoff semifinals on New Year's Eve. The ratings are in, and they're as expected... awful. 9.9 for the Cotton Bowl and 9.7 for the Orange Bowl, in comparison to 15.5 for the Rose and 15.3 for the Sugar last year on New Year's Day. 73 NFL windows outrated the two playoff games, compared to a small fraction of that last year. For all of the future talk about "it takes time to establish a new tradition", which is code for, "God help us if we sacrifice some money to move the Rose and Sugar bowls out of their timeslots despite their matchups being bunk two out of every three years", will one overnight sweep force change?

As someone who isn't a huge party guy, or fan of the holiday in general, I didn't mind the time switch since I'd still be watching the games. But it's clear that many don't share my view, and that view is in the extreme minority. Sure, the two games this year had similar results to last year, a massive blowout and a game that was only decided in the fourth quarter, but the games didn't seem to have the weight they did last year. It became apparent that when every Disney property imaginable, from General Hospital to Marvel Comics and Disney Jr. were trying to get people to watch the playoff games, the result seemed inevitable. And for once, the cable behemoth isn't to blame. They desperately wanted the games on January 2nd, but if it came to taking money out of old white men's wallet's, God forbid anyone shows common sense or flexibility.

January 2 is just sitting there, with four bowl games of which none matter, with no external competition and people likely staying home after two days of raging, and is on a Saturday, the traditional day when college football owns the universe. Everyone's pocket books would still be overflowing with cash, but maybe not enough for Bill Hancock and his posse. The classic stories of hubris and arrogance might have been lost in the flowing booze and partying across the country, and apparently it was also lost on the executives in Pasadena and New Orleans. The New Year's Six nightcap is Oklahoma State and Ole Miss... one of those teams was blown out at home by two Big XII powerhouses and the other's win over Alabama a distant memory. Even the sin of starting a bowl game in Arizona at 11 AM local time seems lost in comparison.

Starting a new tradition on days embedded with them is difficult, but ask the NHL and NBC how it's done. NBC needed sports programming on New Year's Day after they lost TV coverage to the Gator Bowl, so they turned to the NHL with the suggestion of a game at an NFL stadium. The Winter Classic was born, and while it's not a ratings bonanza like the Playoff games last year were, it has carved out its own niche on January 1 and is now as much a part of the day as bowl games are. Breaking long-term habits is one that's nigh on impossible, especially if that tradition involves copious amounts of alcohol, but men in the position of these men should know better, and yet hubris still got the best of them.

Next year, New Year's Eve is on a Saturday. The ratings will likely be better than they were on a Thursday night, but still nowhere near as good as they were on New Year's Day, or could be on January 2, a hum-drum Monday with all of the traditional New Year's Day regalia because the NFL is a titan that cannot be slayed. ESPN, in an attempt to shine a turd, is trumpeting how great the online coverage of the two playoff games went, but they're doing that because they know the flip-side of the equation is terrible TV ratings. Whether it's because the Rose Bowl is inflexible and won't move off of it's beloved TV slot (it did when it was the national title game in 2002 and 2006, but only after the earth and planets were moved), or because of a steady flow of cash, hopefully these numbers knock some sense into the decision makers.

They were warned, and they didn't listen.

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