A Letter to Gary Bettman: The Battle for New Year's Day Is One Worth Rethinking

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A Letter to Gary Bettman: The Battle for New Year's Day Is One Worth Rethinking
Harry How/Getty Images

Dear Mr. Bettman,

First and foremost, great show, Mr. Commissioner. There are very few things better than playoff hockey, and once again your teams have put on one hell of a performance. The college football offseason is a hard pill for all of us to swallow (except you, maybe), and your product has helped bridge the gap from end to beginning.

I was never a hockey buff, but the last few postseasons have changed my stance on the game completely, and I am not afraid to admit it. That alone is worth a drink if we ever have the privilege of crossing paths.

Now, however, I must bring up the comments you made in a recent interview regarding January 1st and the NHL’s Winter Classic. If you don’t directly recall exactly what you said, allow me to refresh your memory. Or, at least allow me to point out the part that caught my attention.

To imagine that we would own New Year’s Day, which used to be for college football; nobody could have imagined it. It was a great concept.

Playing hockey outdoors was a great concept, Mr. Bettman. I will give you that. The images that come from this game are always fascinating to say the least. The teams you select to play in them are solid and placing these matchups in some of the country’s most fascinating baseball cathedrals has worked out brilliantly.

Now, this is where we go our separate ways.

January 1st is sacred for college football. There are exceptions, of course, like when this magical day falls on a Sunday, and the NFL seems to conquer all. That’s another battle to be discussed and one I’m willing to tip my cap to and move along to the next year. 2012 happened to be one of those years, and college football moved its slate of games to January 2nd to make way for the NFL juggernaut.

The NHL budged as well and moved this game to January 2nd. It drew 3.74 million viewers—an impressive showing for hockey standards. Our Belk Bowl (not sure if you’ve ever heard of this one, but it plays better than it sounds, l think) drew 3.47 million for reference purposes. The game was played December 27th and featured N.C. State and Louisville, not in our frontline of teams, but you certainly got us there. Kudos.

As for January 1st, well, history both past and present (and even in the future) are certainly on college football's side. Fans are typically hungover mightily on this magnificent day, but they somehow find a way to tune in from 10 a.m. until last call. In fact, this tradition (both the hangovers and bowl obsession) stretches well beyond those with a pigskin problem like myself.

Then there’s the Rose Bowl, our January 1st feature presentation and the Grandaddy of Them All. I suppose I don’t need to build up this game to or beyond what it is, or perhaps I do because that’s the reason we’re having this exchange. 

Last year’s Rose Bowl between Wisconsin and Oregon on the 2nd drew 17.5 million viewers—it was also on cable—down a bit from previous years due to the date change. For comparison’s sake, the Winter Classic has drawn a shade over 20 million viewers over the past five years. Other games on the 2nd, such as the Fiesta, Outback and Capital One Bowls, also outdrew the Winter Classic.

Again, this is not a knock on hockey, nor would I dare compare the two without being taken to task. Different days, most recently, different games with very different fan bases and unique situations, clearly.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

I won’t show you the comparisons between NFL football and the Winter Classic from this year because they are what you’d envision them to be. The NFL is certainly a worthy adversary, a Thursday problem we’ll soon be managing ourselves.

College football has indeed owned January 1st in the past, although there is change on the horizon. This change, however, isn’t something brought on from exterior competition. It’s also likely to elevate this early January dominance.

The SEC and Big 12 will have agreed to play in their own Rose Bowl starting on January 1st, 2015. This will be mammoth, regardless of what sort of playoff shakes out and will likely be a part of many new bowl traditions on the 1st.

And then there’s the college football playoff, which could see semifinals for this four-team event take place on this glorious day as well. If that’s the case, I encourage you to look for other days to schedule you your magnificent event. Consider this just a friendly heads up given the buzz surrounding the spectacle that could take place. There’s still a possibility that those in charge could drastically flub this game-changer, but I have confidence (at least some) that they will not.

Because of the absence in 2012, you certainly have bragging rights of “owning” the day to a degree. Don’t worry. I won’t tell the NFL. 

Going forward, I encourage you to take a moment out of your busy January 1st in 2013 to watch just a few minutes of the Rose Bowl. It is a glorious sight, and HD has done wonders to capture the beauty of this magnificent setting. Sometimes it doesn't even feel real.

Better yet, what say you and I take in this January 1st tradition in person?

I’ll show you around, teach you the game (perhaps you can give me a hockey tutorial as well) and take us to a glorious tailgate. If you’re obligated to visit your frozen setting, I understand, but just know there’s an opening for you, and hey, I’ll even bring the bourbon.

Our January 1st drink of choice. 

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