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College Football Playoff to Consider Avoiding Future New Year's Eve Scheduling

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2016

FILE - This is a Nov. 4, 2015, file photo showing College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock speaks during a press conference, in Rosemont, Ill. Hancock said Tuesday, March 22, 2016, that it's still
Associated Press

A year after complaints and a nosedive in television ratings, the College Football Playoff is considering moving its semifinals away from New Year's Eve.  

"We will be exploring whether there is a better way for the semifinals," executive director Bill Hancock said Wednesday, per George Schroeder of USA Today. "We will be thinking about whether New Year's Eve is the right way to go."

The semifinals, which were held on New Year's Day during the first playoff session, moved to Dec. 31 in 2015. The move led to a ratings drop of roughly 40 percent overall45 percent for the early game (Clemson-Oklahoma) and 34.4 percent for the late game (Alabama-Michigan State).

Hancock's comments Wednesday mark a shift from January, when he told reporters the ratings downturn was "not that much of a surprise.” He said at the time the CFP was committed to New Year's Eve games and that a number of factors—not just date—led to the sharp decline.

Alabama blasted Michigan State 38-0, while Clemson took down Oklahoma in a 37-17 win. Those blowouts may have slightly contributed to the ratings downturn, but Oregon defeated Florida State 59-20 the year prior. Viewership also dropped 23 percent for the national championship game compared to 2014, which may bolster the CFP's initial thought about New Year's Eve not playing much of a factor.

The 2014 playoff featured Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota on one side of the bracket and two of the greatest programs in history (Alabama, Ohio State) on the other. Perhaps it was more a combination of intriguing storylines and the novelty of the first playoff that led to the initial ratings spike.

What's clear is there won't be any changes until 2018 at the earliest. The 2016 semifinals are locked into New Year's Eve because New Year's Day falls on a Sunday. The Rose Bowl's guarantee of a Jan. 1 date has the playoff semifinals back on a New Year's Day schedule in 2017. 

"The next two years, it's not a discussion point," Hancock said. "We have time. ... It's a matter of (having) tremendous viewership, but can there be more people who have a chance to watch the games. We want to find the best day when the most people can watch the games."

ESPN paid the NCAA $7.3 billion over 12 years for CFP rights. As Schroeder noted, a presentation from the network had conference commissioners "paying attention" to the drop. Lower viewership means advertisers may want to lower their buy rates, in turn hurting ESPN's profitability and the viability of the CFP as a big-money draw.

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

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