College Football Playoff: Fiesta Bowl coaches call for consistent schedule in future

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney (left) and Ohio State coach Ryan Day pose with the Fiesta Bowl trophy one day before the Tigers and Buckeyes play.

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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney (left) and Ohio State coach Ryan Day pose with the Fiesta Bowl trophy one day before the Tigers and Buckeyes play.

Historically, college football perhaps more than any other sport has embraced debate, but the Fiesta Bowl coaches found something to agree on.

Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney both feel New Year’s Day beats the last Saturday in December for the College Football Playoff semifinals.

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“I would much prefer it to be on January 1st and just have consistency in that,” said Swinney, whose team made the playoff for a fifth straight year.

The Tigers beat Oklahoma on Dec. 31, 2015, beat Ohio State 365 days later, lost to Alabama on Jan. 1, 2018, and beat Notre Dame on Dec. 29 of last year.

“I personally like being able to be home for Christmas and head out on the 26th and have your bowl prep,” Swinney concluded. “That's, to me, preferable.”

Day has been highlighting the difficulty of the schedule this year since early December.

Since both teams played in their conference championship games Dec. 7, they lost a week of recruiting and because the semifinals are earlier in the year they also lost three or four days of prep for the game.

“There's really no precedent for this one because typically in the past, the plan has always been, phase 1, development of the young guys, get rest for the older guys. And then phase 2 is kind of game plan the week before, go home for a little break, and come back. Phase 3 is at the bowl site,” Day said Sunday when the team arrived in Arizona.

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"We really didn't have time for that. So this was somewhere between getting ready for a bowl game and a bye week. We practiced Friday, Saturday, took Sunday off. Went Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday real hard. Gave them three days off, and now we're back to work here.

“So talked to a lot of people about this. I think it's a really good plan to keep them fresh and also on top of their game.”

He agreed with Swinney that Jan. 1 would be the preferred day for the semifinals.

“I would like it to be on the January 1st and keep it consistent,” Day said Friday morning in the last press conference before the game. “This has been a unique preparation, but it's been the same for both teams. And I do think coming off of a long season, coming off of the (conference) championship game, it was a challenge to get our guys rested enough and then prepared to play this bowl game. But it was the same for both teams. It is what it is. Again, it is kind of over my pay grade in terms of making decisions on this. But I would say that playing the game on January 1st would be nice just to keep a tradition going.”

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The first edition of College Football Playoff featured semifinals on Jan. 1, 2015, but TV contracts that guarantee Jan. 1 time slots for the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl mean New Year’s Day currently only hosts the games when those bowls serve as the semifinals.

The original plan was to start a new tradition of CFP semifinals on Dec. 31 when they were hosted by the Fiesta Bowl, Peach Bowl, Cotton Bowl or Orange Bowl, but that was scrapped after the television ratings for 2014 semifinals (played Jan. 1, 2015) dwarfed those of 2015 and ’16 (both played Dec. 31).

While roughly 56.3 million combined watched the '14 semifinals (according to numbers compiled by SportsMediaWatch.com), that number dropped to 34.1 a year later and was 39.4 for 2016.

Back on New Year’s Day, the 2017 semifinals had 48.3 viewers while the 2018 semifinals combined for 35.8 million viewers for games played Dec. 29.

Longtime ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit is also in the camp of those who believe the CFP schedule needs to revamped again.

“Play it on January 1. If the Rose Bowl has to have its date and time then play a semifinal before it like the AFC championship and then play the Rose Bowl and play it on the back end,” Herbstreit said Friday. “This schedule this year — and I love this sport and live this sport — but this postseason has been very challenging.

“I feel like this postseason has kind of fallen out of the sky for the fringe fan and then we’ve got to wait how many days, 16 days until the next game. That’s not ideal.”

The 2020 season offers a reprieve as the semifinals return to the Rose and Sugar Bowls. That means they will be played Jan. 1, 2021.

After two consecutive years of New Year’s Eve games, Jan. 1 will be back up for the 2023 season before the initial 12-year CFP contract runs out with games played on Dec. 28, 2024 and Dec. 27, 2025.

“I think the regular season is as good as we’ve got in sports, and the postseason we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to figure it out because right now this is not where we need to be.”

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