The Second Edition of the College Football Playoff gets underway today with two semi-final games matching Oklahoma and Clemson in the Orange Bowl and Michigan State and Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. Technically it’s the Goodyear Cotton Bowl because nothing says Cotton quite like tires.
When the idea of the College Football Playoff was hatched, we were told that College Football was making a move to take back New Year’s Day. New Year’s Day College Football had regressed during the BCS Era as the only game that really mattered was played a few days after New Year’s Day leaving the Capital One and Outback Bowls of the world to play on New Year’s Day. College Football needed to do something because of all things NHL Hockey came up with a brilliant idea with its Winter Classic. I’m not a Hockey guy. I didn’t grow up around it and I don’t really understand it, but the NHL’s plan to play a New Year’s Day game outside in a large stadium such as Michigan Stadium or at baseball parks like Wrigley Field and Fenway was the product of true genius marketing and it made Hockey the talk of New Year’s Day.
That changed last year with the playoff semi-finals. This year, College Football is playing its semi-finals on New Year’s Eve and so you can’t re-take New Year’s Day by playing two of the three biggest games of the year on New Year’s Eve. First of all, I’ll tell you that I don’t give a hoot about New Year’s Eve. It’s dumb. It’s basically amateur hour where those who can’t hold their liquor go out to prove they can and wake up the next day to realize two things (1) they have a hangover the size of Texas, and (2) that girl you picked up late night in the bar and took home with you is actually 300 pounds, snores like a moose, and has taken all the covers because well, there’s a lot to cover. I’ve never understood why people get dressed up to get liquored up just to celebrate the date changing from December 31st to January 1st. Just because the calendar changes from one year to the next doesn’t mean life and it’s daily challenges get any easier. It doesn’t matter how many stupid hats and dumb glasses you wear with “2016” on them, you can’t change that.
But, there’s no question that the College Football playoff is going to suffer some in the ratings because of this decision. ESPN knows it to and that’s why for the past few months we’ve had to endure Jimmy Kimmell and a bunch of mascots singing that this “New Year’s Eve will be so awesome” and we “need to plan accordingly.” The reason this is happening can be summed up in two little words: “Rose Bowl.”
The Rose Bowl is the self-proclaimed “Granddaddy of them all.” First played as the Tournament of Roses East-West game in 1902 it matched in the first game Michigan from the East against Stanford from the West. Michigan won that first game 49-0 when Stanford pulled a “Steve Spurrier” and just quit in the middle walking out in the 3rd quarter. The game was such a failure that from 1902 – 1915, the Tournament of Roses committee replaced football on New Year’s Day with Roman Style Chariot Races. It might have been fun to see Keith Jackson call those things. Football eventually returned in 1916.
Simply put, the Rose Bowl is the tail that wags the dog known as Post-Season College Football. The Rose isn’t giving up its spot on New Year’s Day at 5:00p.m. Eastern Time, and the Big-10 and Pac-12 conferences aren’t giving up the Rose Bowl. The Big-10 and Pac-12 signed an exclusive agreement with the Rose Bowl in 1946 to match their conference champions every January 1st in Pasadena. It’s the oldest intercollegiate post-season agreement in college football and it’s not going away anytime soon. Those who grow up in the Midwest will tell you that – National Championship be damned – it’s the Big-10 title and the Rose Bowl that matters. Former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler once said any Big Ten team thinking about a National Title instead of the Rose Bowl was foolish.
The Rose was the first college football post-season game to ever be nationally televised which occurred in 1952 on NBC which remained the Rose’s January 1 home until the Rose just terminated a long-term contract with the network and moved its game to ABC where it remained until ABC Sports died in 2010. It’s currently on ESPN. The Rose has always done it’s own thing when it comes to its game. FOX grabbed the rights to televise all BCS games in 2007. That deal didn’t include the Rose Bowl which remained on ABC. For that matter the Big-10 and Pac-12 have long done their own thing. When the College Football Associated cut a deal with ABC and CBS in 1982 to televise college football, the Big-10 and Pac-12 (then Pac-10) refused to participate and cut their own television deal.
All of which brings us to the College Football playoff. The Rose Bowl agreed to participate but don’t think for two seconds that they agreed to participate on anything other than their own terms. The Rose was a part of the BCS and I’m certain that they hated it. Twice when the Rose hosted the National Title game they had to move their game from January 1 to January 3rd or 4th and they had to be cringing in 2002 when their game (which was for the BCS Championship) matched Miami from the Big East against Nebraska, which didn’t even win the Big-12 title that season. That’s the only time since 1946 that the Rose Bowl didn’t have either a team from the Big-10 or Pac-12.
To get the Rose to play ball means their game stays on New Year’s Day to go with its dumb parade. That means every three years when the Rose hosts a semi-final, the two semi-final games are played on New Year’s Day. When the Rose doesn’t, those semi-final games are played on New Year’s Eve. That means two out of three years, the biggest games of the season are played on New Year’s Eve. That is not retaking New Year’s Day. Bill Hancock, the Executive Director of the College Football Playoff has said that keeping the Rose Bowl – and to a lesser extent the Sugar Bowl which has a clunker of a match-up between Oklahoma State and Ole Miss this year – on New Year’s Day was not necessary to creating a playoff. Right. If you believe that, you just need to go join the flat earth society. The Rose Bowl wouldn’t participate unless it was on its terms. The Big-10 and Pac-12 are contractually obligated to participate in the Rose so no Rose Bowl, no Big-10, no Pac-12, and the playoff consists of a four-teams from three Conferences: the ACC, Big-12, and SEC plus lest we forget Notre Dame, which is constantly being pandered to by College Football for God knows what reason.
We can blame a lot of what’s wrong with Sports Television on ESPN and I give you as Exhibits A and B John Bucigross and Neil Everett, but this one is not on ESPN. The network wanted to shift the games to Saturday January 2nd, which would have allowed the Rose to stay on New Year’s Day and put the playoffs on a day with no NFL games and little competition other than regular season college basketball which isn’t a big ratings draw. The College Football playoff refused. Even though ESPN paid a reported $5.6 billion dollars for a 12-year deal to televise the playoff, the powers that be know that if ESPN won’t play ball on their terms, someone else gladly will.
So tonight while some will party, some will sneak away for football. The ones that don’t care about New Year’s Eve will watch the games and so it has little effect on people like me. I could respect the CFP Powers and College Presidents a lot more if they would have simply been honest and said, we want a playoff but we have to play on the Rose Bowl’s terms and if we don’t, we won’t have a playoff. Don’t bullshit us with we are taking back New Year’s Day and then turn around a year later and say we are establishing new traditions. No what you are doing is pandering to old traditions and that’s why the Rose Bowl remains a thorn in the side of a meaningful playoff system.