The College Football Playoff Final Rated Lower Than Duke-Wisconsin Basketball


Ratings for the College Football National Championship game are in. The 16.0 rating was a substantial increase over the semifinals played on New Year’s Eve. But, it was lower than last year’s game between Ohio State and Oregon (18.6 rating). It was lower than the NCAA Tournament Final between Duke and Wisconsin (17.1 rating). Given the disparity in interest between college football and college basketball, that’s embarrassing.

With the Championship ratings down 15 percent, the Semifinals down 35 percent, and the showcase Rose Bowl earning its lowest rating since joining the BCS, it’s safe to say the postseason was a substantial failure. What can we learn?

Obviously, playing playoff games on NYE was dumb. It put the marquee games in front of a diminished audience. It put the main course before the heavy appetizers. It built little interest for the ultimate final. Catering to your customers over your partners in graft should be common sense. Expect that to be fixed by 2018.

More worrisome is that the ratings decline broadly fits the pattern of the BCS Final ratings, suggesting that it’s not the format but the participants impacting the ratings.

Very few teams move the meter. Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Texas spike the ratings. Michigan, we presume, would do so as well. That’s basically it. One of those teams in the BCS Final created a ratings spike. No one else did.

Cross-regional matchups tend to do better than inter-regional ones. In the latter case, much of the country is left with little rooting interest. Auburn vs. Oregon rated higher than Alabama vs. LSU or Auburn vs. Florida State.

This playoff did not have a meter-moving team. Alabama brought the SEC audience (who watch anyway). Oklahoma isn’t a draw. Michigan State and Clemson aren’t traditional football powers. It ended up with an Inter-Dixie Final. Not surprisingly, it rated much lower than Ohio State playing two cross-regional matchups last year.

If you want to extend that rationale to the major bowls … Texas was not bowl eligible. Notre Dame and Ohio State played each other, kicking off the same time as Michigan. Other major bowls offered Houston vs. Florida State, Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma State, and Stanford vs. Iowa. The Rose Bowl maintains some mystique. The others have none.

College Football has to be somewhat fair. It can’t just shoehorn in big teams based on ratings draws. But, it’s worth looking at what they do right with basketball. It casts a wider net and is far more inclusive.

A four-team NCAA tournament would take the No. 1 seeds, come what may. 2015 would not have been so bad with Kentucky and Duke in the field. 2014 would have offered Florida vs. Virginia and Arizona vs. Wichita State. No one would have watched.

64 teams in a college football tournament is impractical. But, the NCAA Tournament does a much better job getting the big name teams involved and engaging every region of the country. We can’t say how an eight-team playoff would play out. There are problems to work out for implementing one. But, there would be a greater probability for meter moving programs and cross-regional matchups.

It would have all five major conferences invested. In 2015, Notre Dame and Ohio State would have made it. Michigan would have been a blocked punt away. We’re guessing a lot more people would have watched.