We’re now a half-decade into the College Football Playoff era, and the initial returns are decidedly mixed. The uproar over location this year combined with another dip in semifinal ratings, culminating in a reportedly record-low title game viewership.
The sample size remains relatively small, but don’t think it’s not enough to cause overreactions — including among those with the clout to make changes. The College Football Playoff is ultimately a made-for-TV event, and repeated damage to television ratings would be the most likely catalyst for change.
Possibilities for wholesale change aren’t especially enticing. Talk of more berths into the College Football Playoff buzzed well before even the first installment, a threat that critics view as damaging to the sport’s unique regular season. But Alabama and Clemson’s march to a third title meeting dispelled the notion the Playoff needs expansion, and it appears for we’ll be spared a larger field for the time being.
I don't think anyone should be surprised by this. pic.twitter.com/8cX2H4V0Ep
— Kyle Kensing (@kensing45) January 7, 2019
Another “solution” some have offered that flips a proverbial middle finger to fans of the game’s traditions is booting the Rose Bowl from its historic New Year’s Day afternoon position. Jan. 1 has indeed been better for television ratings, but the only way for the Playoff to occupy this date full-time is to either make the Rose and Sugar Bowls permanent semifinal locations, or boot the Granddaddy of ‘Em All from a place its held for 105 editions.
Creating “a new paradigm” on New Year’s Eve didn’t work. This year’s move to the Saturday before New Year’s felt much more in line with the spirit of college football, but the one-off date lacked … something. I can’t put my finger on exactly what, but the Playoff semifinals lacked the aura football’s basketball counterparts have in the Final Four — and the Final Four appears to be the benchmark for which those behind the College Football Playoff strive.
Of course, it took generations for the Final Four to become the cultural phenomenon it is today. The Magic Johnson-Larry Bird showdown, widely credited for igniting the meteoric rise in the Final Four’s exposure, came 40 years after the first installment.
With the money riding on the College Football Playoff’s visibility, no one’s interested in waiting generations to establish a presence. The Playoff’s best course forward is to choose a set time-frame, commit to it, and drill it into the college football-watching nation’s consciousness.
And, it just so happens The Open Man has the perfect solution.
Kick-Off The Postseason with the College Football Playoff Semifinals
Currently, bowl season leads up to the Playoff semifinals over the course of two weeks, with nearly a month between the conference championship games and semis. The Open Man instead proposes kicking off bowl season with the semifinals.
Much of the excitement the NCAA Tournament generates comes from its action-packed, opening two days, which follow closely on the buzz of Selection Sunday. Football cannot, nor should attempt to recreate an exact model of this, but moving up the semifinals to the first Saturday of the postseason is as close as it gets.
The participating teams are still fresh, just two weeks removed from conference championships, but not coming off such a long layoff as to risk rust. The TV execs also can capitalize on the energy of the College Football Playoff’s own version of Selection Sunday, offering up the games without lengthy delay.
Every year, fans are guaranteed the Playoff semifinals on the first Saturday of the postseason, with kickoff times of 3:30 and 8 p.m. ET. The Playoff book-ends bowl season.
Some of the teeth-gnashing this year’s championship game site elicited was the result of travel. Expecting Clemson and Alabama fans to trek to Silicon Valley just one week after their teams played in the Dallas metroplex and Miami bordered on greedy.
To address some of the travel concerns, as well as differentiate the semifinals from the multitude of other bowl games played in the ensuing two weeks, host the Playoff at the campuses of the No. 1 and 2 seed.
Additionally, this offers a competitive, regular-season incentive to teams in the Playoff hunt. Alabama could have laid down in this year’s SEC Championship Game and still made the Playoff, for example. Thankfully, the Tide didn’t, and it produced one of the best games in a somewhat lackluster season — but the prospect of hosting the semifinal eliminates even the possibility.
The Championship Game
In one of the moves most clearly indicating the Playoff committee badly wants its championship to resemble the Final Four, it adopted Monday for its championship game. This was a decision made in the latter years of the Bowl Championship Series, and I never understood why.
The BCS spent its first 12 years on Thursday night. Friday’s a much more palatable day for a sleepy morning-after at work than Tuesday, and college football has some tradition on Thursdays. Monday has always felt like an odd fit.
Barring the first Thursday after New Year’s for the Playoff Championship, the first Saturday after New Year’s is an attractive alternative.
As for location, I propose a decade-long cycle that spans most of the Power Five footprint.
Arlington, Texas: For better or worse, Jerry World established the standard for stadiums in the 21st Century — and, as a result, the template for big-ticket events in neutral destinations.
Atlanta: Mercedes-Benz Stadium is located a stone’s throw from the College Football Hall of Fame, giving Atlanta a cool tie into the game’s history. As the home to the SEC Championship Game, and its location, Mercedes-Benz is likely to be a huge local draw (as it was a year ago).
Glendale, Arizona: Now, if it was up to me, any Phoenix-based championship would be played at Sun Devil Stadium. It’s located in a great spot, both aesthetically and logistically, about a $15 cab ride from Sky Harbor Airport. Sun Devil Stadium also has an impressive national championship lineage in its short tenure hosting such games: Penn State’s win over Miami; Nebraska trucking Florida in the forerunner to this year’s Clemson win over Alabama; Ohio State’s improbable upset of The U juggernaut.
However, I have to be realistic. State Farm Stadium’s quite nice, even if it’s roughly halfway to California from downtown Phoenix.
Indianapolis: Peers I know who have covered Final Fours at Lucas Oil Field rave about both the venue, and the setup of the stadium in downtown Indianapolis. Adding Lucas Oil to the Playoff championship mix also gives Big Ten Country a title game, which has never happened.
Las Vegas: Morally, I’m opposed to Sheldon Adelson strong-arming his way into a mostly publicly subsidized stadium that he could have afforded (and would have quickly made his money back on). I’m also opposed to Raiders fans having their franchise usurped by said publicly subsidized stadium.
The new Raiders stadium will be a perfect destination for the College Football Playoff championship, offering visiting fans both the game, and a vacation experience. I have witnessed firsthand how the Pac-12 transformed its once blase basketball tournament into a spring break spectacle by moving to The Strip; the energy Vegas would add to the Playoff would dwarf that.
Miami: Although the actual stadium no longer stands, the game of the Orange Bowl boasts an illustrious lineage. The Orange Bowl is one of the oldest postseason games; in fact, if any game had an equal claim to stake to New Year’s, as the Rose Bowl did earlier this decade, it was the Orange Bowl; not the Sugar. But, yanno, the SEC can’t let anyone else have a toy it doesn’t own.
I digress. Miami’s another destination city with plenty of entertainment, similar to Las Vegas. That doesn’t necessarily mean the halftime will have great entertainment. But at least the game should have energy.
New Orleans: The Superdome’s woven into the fabric of American sports history. Some of my earliest sports memories include Chris Webber’s ill-fated timeout there against North Carolina, and Alabama shellacking Miami in the Hurricanes’ quest for back-to-back national championships. In more modern times, the Superdome continues to host the Final Four, and is home to one of the semifinals on years the rotation arrives at New Year’s Day.
New Orleans is deserving of a championship game, as well.
Pasadena/Los Angeles: Some of the most legendary moments in college football occurred on the hallowed grounds of Rose Bowl Stadium. Up against the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains, the venue’s located in one of the most picturesque locales in sports. It’s also hosted championship games to match, including the greatest college football game ever played.
With Stan Kroenke set to open the Rams new stadium soon (with the sub-letting Los Angeles Chargers, eye-roll until I can see my skull), Inglewood will also offer an attractive destination for the College Football Playoff. The new stadium’s a straight shot from LAX, which helps when up against L.A. traffic.
San Antonio: Here’s my wild card. The obvious second choice in Texas is Houston, though it has strikes against it in the court of public opinion. Media seems to hate covering Final Fours there — my first Final Four was in Houston, so I’ll always associate it with very fond memories. I also don’t mind taking the 30-minute train ride from downtown to NRG Stadium, but I think I’m an exception.
But really, there’s a charm NRG Stadium lacks that Alamodome has. The stadium in San Antonio opened just 25 years ago, and still feels new inside. It’s located in San Antonio’s downtown, which is a terrific location for the festive atmosphere the College Football Playoff presumably wants for its championship. And given the prominence the Alamo Bowl has gained in recent years, the city has proven it will embrace a marquee football game.
Tampa: Returns on Tampa as a host city for the outstanding second installment of Alabama-Clemson were that both city and stadium were fantastic. Mixing up outdoor stadiums with the lavish domes that dominate the pro football landscape helps give each national championship game its own identity, which is part of what made title tilts in the pre-Playoff era so memorable