College football has revolved around Saturday since literally day one (kind of), when Rutgers and Princeton met on November 6, 1869.
Yet its biggest game has been slotted as Monday night football for about a decade now.
While the early BCS era scheduled a championship-imbued bowl for right after New Year’s, the addition of a standalone title game inspired the suits to space things out. 2006, the first season with a separate, non-bowl title game, saw the Saturday sport wrap up on the Monday a week after New Year’s Day.
There are a few loose reasons why this happens.
ESPN is the closest thing FBS football has to an authority figure (the NCAA is a theoretical concept), meaning much of the explanation goes back to the magical word “ratings.” Counting bowl games, this gives ESPN a Monday football schedule for parts of six straight months. ESPN wants you thinking about football every single Monday.
More broadly, college football and the NFL avoid scheduling against each other, which is why NFL games on Saturdays suddenly start happening as soon as CFB’s regular season ends and why the Rose Bowl is sometimes not on New Year’s Day. So with the NFL playoffs already spilling into January Saturdays, having college football’s title game on a January 5 or 12 or whatever could make for a crowded schedule.
There are a few reasons why Monday sucks, though.
1. This is not a Monday sport. This is a Saturday sport.
Monday has nothing to do with college football. It’s the principle of the thing.
2. Logistically, doing anything on a Monday night sucks.
Having games at far-flung, bland stadiums is bad enough, often forcing dedicated fans to spend four figures in travel money that does not benefit any college programs. Monday means many fans also have to take multiple days off work.
Players might still be on the road right as spring semester begins (I’m old enough to remember when academics was the argument against having a Playoff).
Fans lucky enough to avoid travel still get tangled in rush hour traffic on the way to whichever NFL monstrosity.
3. It sucks for many viewers.
Many East Coasters — often a large bulk of college football’s audience, especially given the prominence of certain SEC, ACC, and Big Ten teams — have to get up for work at 7 a.m., stay up through a broadcast that doesn’t end until around midnight, then get back up for work at 7 a.m. This is a standard schedule for anybody who watches weeknight sports, but does anybody prefer it?
4. What a lame time slot for fans who want to celebrate.
Obviously, lots of people work weekends (including anybody in sports media), but having the game on Monday increases the odds of goofing up your work schedule.
Winning a title on Saturday would give most people all Saturday night to celebrate, all Sunday to recover, and all Monday to strut past co-workers.
Winning a title on Tuesday at 1 a.m. ET might mean you’re at work hours later, waiting to go buy a trophy shirt 18 hours after the game ended.
Winning the Super Bowl on Sunday at least means you probably didn’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn on gameday.
5. Other reasons this sucks? Probably a lot. This entry is a catch-all.
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Everything could be so much better! Put the National Championship on Saturday, and let the #1 team host it.
Having the National Championship wrap up a Saturday tripleheader that includes two NFL playoff games would be great (and/or involve the FCS title game too), but let’s take it even further.
In general: most college football fans have maintained for years that we’d prefer to have at least some playoff games in campus stadiums.
- Travel money and TV exposure should benefit college communities, not cities that gifted buildings to NFL billionaires.
- Teams that earn #1 seeds should get the reward of hosting a home game (as happens at some point in almost every other sport’s postseason, including every other level of college football).
- The highest-achieving players should be rewarded by getting to avoid travel.
- Fans should be able to tailgate for hours and load up a beloved stadium without taking out loans.
- We’d have guaranteed, instant sellouts, quite unlike the current setup.
- Imagine the increasingly complex exfiltration plans Bama and Clemson would draw up in order to escape each other’s campuses with the trophy in one piece. What drama!
While the FCS and non-Division I tournaments demonstrate how awesome a campus playoff environment can be, I understand FBS is different. The bowls have power and cachet. The suits were always going to want the Rose Bowl in any championship structure. So having the FBS tournament’s semifinals at bowl games is always going to happen.
But the title game itself? Why can’t that go on campus? Why should college football be a knockoff NFL? We invented their sport. The NBA, NHL, MLB, and MLS let their teams host championships. The NFL is the unusual one, not the norm.
It’s true that most college sports have neutral-site championships. The FCS goes to Frisco, Texas every year. Most NCAA sports bid out their tourneys in advance.
But the College Football Playoff isn’t an NCAA event. It can do whatever it wants. It could put the game on campus and still make every bit as much ESPN money, still put a Dr. Pepper logo on the trophy, still take a cut of ticket revenue to share throughout FBS, and so on.
In short, imagine waking up on the Saturday morning of the title game to a scene like this (substitute your school’s logo onto these flags) ...
... as opposed to spending much of championship Monday staring at this: