HOOVER, Ala. — Bill Hancock said the College Football Playoff is considering moving the playoff semifinals from New Year’s Eve.
Hancock, the CFP’s executive director, said the move could happen no sooner than after the 2018 regular season.
“We’re exploring if there’s a better [date] for the semifinals,” Hancock said. “We’re thinking about if New Year’s Eve is the way to go.”
Last year’s Orange Bowl semifinal on New Year’s Eve between Clemson and Oklahoma drew a 9.1 rating, a 38.5 percent drop compared to the previous year’s Rose Bowl semifinal on New Year’s Day, which had a 14.8 rating. The number of viewers dropped nearly 45 percent from 28.1 million for the Rose to 15.6 million for the Orange.
Last year’s Cotton Bowl semifinal on New Year’s Eve between Alabama and Michigan State drew a 9.6 rating, a 36.8 percent drop compared to the previous year’s Sugar Bowl semifinal on New Year’s Day. The viewership dropped nearly 35 percent, from 28.2 million to 18.5 million.
All CFP games are televised on ESPN.
The FBS conference commissioners who created the CFP in 2012 said they wanted to start a new tradition by playing the semifinals on New Year’s Eve two of every three years during the 12-year contract with ESPN. When the Rose and Sugar Bowls host the semifinal games, those would always be played on New Year’s Day.
After the just-completed Year 2, Hancock said the CFP stood by its decision to keep the semifinals on New Year’s Eve to “start a new tradition” in viewing habits. That stance, however, has softened with Hancock admitting “the bigger priority is finding a date to get the most people to watch.”
Even before Year 2, ESPN executives lobbied extensively for the semifinals to be moved off New Year’s Eve. But the conference commissioners wouldn’t budge.
This season’s semifinals at the Peach and Fiesta bowls will be on New Year’s Eve with the CFP title game Jan. 9 in Tampa, Florida.
The 2017 season semifinals at the Rose and Sugar bowls will be on Jan. 1, so the earliest the Playoff could move the semifinals is Year 5 — after the 2018 regular season. Those semifinals are currently scheduled for the Orange and Cotton bowls on Dec. 31, 2017.
The CFP has a 12-year contract with ESPN to televise the four-team playoffs. Hancock said there has been “no talk from university presidents or commissioners” about expanding the playoff field. Hancock added that after six years of the playoff — after the 2019 regular season — the CFP can look in and potentially change three of the six bowls — the Fiesta, Cotton and Peach.
Hancock also said the Big 12’s decision to add a conference championship game after the 2017 season will “greatly help” the league in the CFP. The Big 12 was the only Power 5 league that didn’t have a conference title game and didn’t play 13 games. Hancock said they talked “a lot” with the Big 12 and told them “how much adding another quality opponent would help.”
“It gives them another quality opponent,” Hancock said. “It is a game-changer.”