Officials at the College Football Playoff have tweaked schedules in future seasons to assure that all semifinals matchups will be played on Saturdays or holidays through the remainder of its existing agreement with ESPN.
The move was announced Thursday by Bill Hancock, CFP executive director, and stands as a reaction to the dramatic ratings drop for last year’s semifinals games that were played on a Thursday night (Dec. 31, 2015).
Last season, the CFP stuck by its New Year’s Eve competition dates despite a request from ESPN to move the games to another date. Overnight ratings dropped by 36 percent from viewership of semifinals telecasts during the 2014 season, when those games were held on Jan. 1.
In a statement, Hancock said CFP executives “concluded that making these changes would be the right thing to do for our fans. We tried to do something special with New Year’s Eve, even when it fell on a weekday. But after studying this … our previous call is reversed.”
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The change of philosophy will not impact the Dec. 31 dates for this year’s semifinals games because New Year’s Eve falls on a Saturday. Games scheduled for Dec. 31, 2021 will remain on that day because New Year’s Eve will be a Friday and a federal holiday in 2021.
The date shifts will occur in the 2018, 2019, 2024 and 2025 seasons as part of the CFP’s 12-year agreement with ESPN to televise the playoff games. The date of the Cotton Bowl to be played at the conclusion of the 2018 season is impacted. That contest at AT&T Stadium in Arlington has moved to Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018.
In addition, other Cotton Bowls that are not part of the CFP playoff bracket will move to Saturday dates in the 2017 and 2019 seasons. The 2017 contest will be played on Dec. 30. The 2019 contest will be played on Dec. 28. This year’s contest in Arlington will be played on Jan. 2, 2017.
As a traditional New Year’s Day contest, only two Cotton Bowls have been played in December since the contest made its debut on Jan. 1, 1937. The exceptions were last year’s game (Alabama 38, Michigan State 0), played Dec. 31 as a CFP semifinals contest, and a game played Dec. 31, 1966 because of the New Year’s holiday weekend.
In a statement, Cotton Bowl Athletic Association chairman Jay McAuley praised the move, calling it “wonderful news for our game.”
“Saturdays are tradition. They are tailor-made for college football,” McAuley said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better timeslot.”
CFP semifinal games will be played in the Orange, Rose and Sugar bowls through the 2025-26 season based on existing agreements. Venues for other semifinal sites for the 2021-22 season and thereafter will be determined some time in 2018, CFP officials announced.