The College Football Playoff has abandoned a plan to play its semifinals on most New Year’s Eves after television ratings tumbled last year, moving the dates of future games to ensure they will be played either on a Saturday or a holiday.
The changes will start with the 2018 season. The TV ratings for last year’s games played on Thursday, Dec. 31, dropped 36 percent from the semifinals played the season before on New Year’s Day.
This season’s semifinals are still set for Saturday, Dec. 31. Next season’s playoff is scheduled to be back on Jan. 1. After 2018, the games initially scheduled to be played on New Year’s Eve, will now be played Saturday, Dec. 29.
The 2019 games will move to Saturday, Dec. 28.
“We had a healthy discussion with a lot of people who love college football and we concluded that making these changes would be the right thing to do for our fans,” College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock said.
The first College Football Playoff set ratings records for ESPN after the 2014 season. The semifinals were played at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, with the first game kicking off at about 5:20 p.m. ET.
The semifinals moved to New Year’s Eve last season, which is when they were scheduled to be played eight times throughout the 12-year contract the CFP signed with ESPN. The Rose and Sugar bowls are locked into those time slots on New Year’s Day, so when the semifinals rotate to the other four bowl sites (Cotton, Fiesta, Peach or Orange) they would be played on Dec. 31 unless it landed on a Sunday.
College football officials said they were going to start a new tradition on New Year’s Eve and that people would incorporate watching big games into their party plans. The initial returns showed that was not happening. Not only did the games have to compete with parties at night, but much of the country was still working when last season’s games kicked off at 4:30 ET. That was 3:30 local time in Oklahoma for the Sooners matchup against Clemson in the Orange Bowl.