“We’re going to create a new tradition on New Year’s Eve.”
—CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock
“We want to put our stake in the ground for New Year’s Eve.”
—Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby
How’s that working out for you so far, fellas?
Well, considering they played this season’s CFP semifinals on an evening many folks set aside for revelry, plus an afternoon when even more are still working, not so well.
Ratings for Thursday’s semifinals were down 36 percent from last season’s semis, which were on Jan. 1 — a day even casual fans of college football set aside for watching.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Closer to home, the ratings for Friday’s Sugar Bowl between Ole Miss and Oklahoma State were the lowest in the game’s history.
Given that neither team was in the top 10, both have limited fan bases and that there was certainly was no lead-in help from a lopsided Rose Bowl, that’s understandable.
“We knew it would be a challenge on the TV end,” Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan said. “But that was out of our control. Our main concern was that the teams and the fans would have the most enjoyable bowl experience possible. And we felt like we met that goal, as we always do.”
Indeed, coaches, players and others from both schools went out of their way to praise the hospitality that has helped maintain the Sugar Bowl among elite tier of bowl games.
But still ...
The fact that the Nos. 13 and 16 teams were playing at the very time the game should have been showcasing two of its best teams in a CFP semifinal was a prime example of why greed, short-sightedness and sheer arrogance have already reduced a seemingly great idea — a four-team playoff — to the level of folly we came to know and love during the 16-year BCS era.
At least during in the BCS years, the championship game was the last one of the season.
It still is under the CFP, but Thursday’s semifinals were followed by seven ultimately meaningless bowl games.
Imagine that once the NFL playoffs began the other teams played each other in exhibition games. You get the picture.
And that’s going to be the case next year, and in six of the nine that follow.
Maybe it doesn’t matter that much. But down the road, ESPN is going to start questioning if it’s getting its money’s worth out of the $7 billion it’s shelling out for the playoffs alone.
Actually, ESPN already has. Early last year, the network asked the conference commissioners, who are the ones running the CFP, to play this season’s semifinals on Saturday — presumably moving some or all of the four bowl games scheduled that day to Dec. 31. Because of the way the calendar falls, it would have been a one-time opportunity in the current 12-year contract cycle.
The commissioners refused, saying they wanted the system they set up to have a chance to demonstrate its viability.
Now they know.
So this is what we have. Unless something changes.
Which, at least so far, few are willing to acknowledge the possibility of happening.
“The intent was to create a new opportunity, a new focus,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said before the start of the Sugar Bowl. “Let’s take a full picture of these six bowl games first.”
Well, now the results are in and the flaws of the current system, which was largely devised because of Sankey’s predecessor, Mike Slive, wanting his conference to have the equivalent of the Rose Bowl, have been fully exposed.
And even if you’re not worried about TV ratings, which you certainly don’t have to be, chances are that you are confused about a logical-sounding setup that have the best non-playoff team of one conference playing the best of another happening only two of every three years (the Rose Bowl is operating under the same setup).
But because the Big Ten and Pac-12 saw the opportunity to write their own lucrative Rose Bowl deal with ESPN once the move from the BCS to the CFP was decided, the SEC, enlisting the Big 12 as its partner, was sure to follow suit, staking out the prime time spot after the Rose Bowl as its own.
The Sugar Bowl, seeing its historic standing threatened, outbid the Cotton Bowl for the game.
Nothing wrong with that.
But with the Rose Bowl’s New Year’s Day afternoon start considered inviolate, suggestions such as playing the semifinals before and after the Rose Bowl are non-starters for the Big 12, SEC and Sugar Bowl.
What happens next?
Well, on Saturday, Hancock was reaffirming the conference’s commitment to the current setup, but adding: “Let’s watch this. Let’s see what happens.”
As for the Sugar Bowl, it made what it felt was the best deal it could. But the Big 12’s tiebreaker system delivered in essence the league’s fourth-best team, and the game against Ole Miss was a mismatch.
That can always change. Last year’s game would have been No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 8 Mississippi State.
We haven’t even brought up expanding the playoffs, as many favor.
On Friday, both Sankey and Bowlsby were saying that’s not yet on the table, pointing how difficult it was getting from two teams to four, and that going to eight would present even more complications.
But college football has always had too many moving parts to do things in an orderly fashion.
That’s why those who run the sport have gotten themselves in the shape they’re in.