The college football season finally wraps up Monday night with the national championship game, a whopping 16 days after the semifinal contests were played.
Why the long delay? Television, of course.
The current playoff system began in 2015, with the semifinals being scheduled for either New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve. The plan was to have them played on Jan. 1 in the years when the Rose and Sugar bowls held the semifinals, and on Dec. 31 when those games were played in other bowls.
But poor television ratings for New Year’s Eve games led to that plan eventually being abandoned, instead playing them on the Saturday before the holiday. After all, Saturday is the traditional day for college football.
This season the semifinals were played on Dec. 28, and the way the calendar fell created the big gap. New Year’s Day was on a Wednesday, and the powers that be decided that it would be better to have minor bowls take place the following weekend instead of holding the title game nine days after the semifinals. (The riveting Lendingtree Bowl, in Mobile, Alabama, took place last Monday instead of the championship contest.)
So Louisiana State and Clemson finally will meet Monday, at 7 p.m. in New Orleans, more than two weeks after playing their semifinal contests. That’s a bigger void between games than the NFL has with its conference championships and the Super Bowl.
“Looking back, we tried to do something special on New Year’s Eve and we found out it wasn’t the best,” College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock told the Orlando (Florida) Sentinel. “So we were able to pivot.”
He told the Sentinel that consideration was given to holding the title game last Monday, but some of the facilities it wanted to use for ancillary events were’t available.
ESPN has the telecast and Chris Fowler will be doing the play-by-play. He acknowledged, on a recent conference call, that the gap is not ideal.
“It’s a fluke of the schedule,” he said. “… It’s not going to be a regular thing. This has been a weird year. … Ideally for momentum and fan interest, you wouldn’t want it to be 16 days.”
Things return to normal next season. The semifinals are set for New Year’s Day, with the championship contest to be played on Jan. 11.
The “E” in ESPN used to stand for “entertainment,” way back when it was the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network instead of just a combination of letters.
In more recent years the “E” could mean “excess,” as the telecaster never has been afraid to hype big events and what it considers big stories with massive amounts of coverage.
The latest all-in effort is set for Monday, when it will produce 13 versions of its telecast of the title game, nine on television and four on its app. Of course, ESPN has a marketing campaign — it’s not just providing football coverage, it’s producing a “Megacast.” Approximately 100 cameras, and more than 100 microphones, are to be deployed.
It has done versions of this before, but never to this extent.
“The CFP championship game is pretty well-suited for that kind of thing,” Fowler said. “(That’s) because there’s so much talk about so many different angles to take.”
Here’s the rundown:
ESPN: Traditional telecast, with Kirk Herbstreit (analysis) joining Fowler in the booth. Tom Rinaldi reports from the LSU sideline and Maria Taylor does so from the Clemson bench.
ESPN2: Sportscasters Adam Amin and Steve Levy will be roaming the sidelines and providing perspective. Their presentation will be joined by analysts Pat McAfee and Dan Orlovsky. This also will be available in 4K to customers of DirecTV, Comcast and Altice.
ESPNU: Coaches will dissect the game from their perspective. Scheduled to appear are Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State), Jeff Hafley (Boston College), Derek Mason (Vanderbilt) and Gary Patterson (Texas Christian).
ESPNEWS: Several angles will be shown, along with updated statistics and other pertinent information.
Goal line channel: Stats, analytics and social media commentary augment the traditional telecast.
SEC Network: The traditional telecast, but with the LSU radio feed instead of ESPN’s announcers.
ACC Network: The traditional telecast, but with the Clemson radio feed instead of ESPN’s announcers.
ESPN Classic: This version showcases natural sounds from the stadium, including band performances.
ESPN Deportes: Spanish-language version of the production.
The following are to be available:
• Commentary from former NFL referee John Parry, former SEC referee Matt Austin and Pac-12 replay official Judson Howard discussing the game from an official’s angle.
• A full-time view from the “skycam” hovering over the field, also available in 4K to customers of DirecTV, Comcast and Altice.
• A view of the field that shows all 22 players, similar to a coach’s films.
• A view of up to 12 angles of a play as it is run.
In addition, ESPN Radio carries the game, with Sean McDonough on play-by-play, Todd Blackledge providing commentary and sideline reports from Holly Rowe and Ian Fitzsimmons.