Night Shift

The College Football Playoff takes on Ryan Seacrest
December 14, 2015

THE LORDS OF college football are betting you will forsake auld acquaintances this New Year's Eve for a new experience: the College Football Playoff.

This year's national semifinals (the Cotton and Orange bowls) will be played on Thursday, Dec. 31, with the first game set for 4 p.m. EST and the second scheduled to kick off around 8. "I really feel like we're going to change the culture of New Year's Eve in the country," CFP executive director Bill Hancock told reporters last June.

Maybe, but it's not going to happen overnight. Plenty of Americans will be working during the semifinal games, and many others will need to be persuaded to watch college football on a night usually reserved for social gatherings and watching the ball drop. But New Year's Eve playoff games aren't going away. This is the second year of ESPN's 12-year, $7.3 billion deal with the CFP (which includes the three playoff games and up to four major bowl games on New Year's Eve or Day), and eight of the remaining 11 years feature the national semis on Dec. 31.

ESPN tried to reduce that number to seven by moving this season's final four to Jan. 2. "With Saturday being a traditional college football day, we thought it could be a great one-time opportunity to have the semifinals fall on Jan. 2," says Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN's vice president, college sports programming. "You would have the Rose and Sugar and Fiesta [bowls] on Jan. 1, as it already is scheduled, and then you would move what is the current New Year's Eve schedule to Jan. 2. The CFP vetted the idea and decided to stick with the regularly scheduled calendar."

The inaugural college football semifinals, which took place last Jan. 1, were a ratings bonanza: Ohio State's victory over Alabama at the Sugar Bowl drew 28.3 million viewers, while Oregon's win over Florida State at the Rose averaged 28.2 million. Those numbers are unlikely to be duplicated this year. "I think the diehards will change [their habits] immediately because they are going to want to find these games," says Ben-Hanan, who is optimistic casual viewers will come around: "Eventually, when people plan New Year's Eve parties, there will be more of an emphasis on making sure that there is a TV tuned into the game."

That cultural shift is assured at Gallettes, the famed Tuscaloosa watering hole (the bar's trademark cocktail is the Yellowhammer) that sits about a pitching wedge from Bryant-Denny Stadium. Jeff Sirkin, the co-owner, laughed when asked if any of his 32 televisions wouldn't be tuned to the CFP on New Year's Eve. "Strictly business when it comes to what we are watching," Sirkin said. "There'll be football on here all day. That's a guarantee.

The Best Non--New Year's Bowls

ALAMO BOWL TCU (10--2) VS. OREGON (9--3)

TCU QB Trevone Boykin has healed; shootout to follow

RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL UNC (11--2) VS. BAYLOR (9--3)

The nation's top two offenses in yards per play

LAS VEGAS BOWL UTAH (9--3) VS. BYU (9--3)

After a two-year in-season hiatus the rivalry is renewed

BOCA RATON BOWL TEMPLE (10--3) VS. TOLEDO (9--2)

The premier Group of Five showdown

CITRUS BOWL VIRGINIA TECH (6--6) VS. TULSA (6--6)

Where Hokies coach Frank Beamer's 23-bowl streak began

ILLUSTRATIONILLUSTRATION BY MACKENZIE SCHUBERT

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)