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College Football Playoff moves semis to earlier kickoffs

Ralph D. Russo Associated Press

The College Football Playoff semifinals are staying on New Year’s Eve – despite last season’s poor television ratings – but the scheduling plan is getting a tweak.

The Dec. 31 semifinals will start an hour earlier than they did last season and the Orange Bowl will now be played in prime time on Friday, Dec. 30, instead of during the day on Dec. 31.

CFP executive director Bill Hancock said Monday that coverage of the first game on ESPN will start at noon p.m. Pacific. The second game will start at 3 p.m. PT. The semifinals will be played in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, and the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. Which game starts first will be determined on Dec. 4, when the matchups are set.

Last season was the first that the semifinals were played on New Year’s Eve and the television ratings were down about 35 percent for the two games compared to the season before, when both were played on Jan. 1. That debut season of the College Football Playoff drew record audiences for ESPN.

College Football Playoff officials broke from the original plan by moving the Orange Bowl off New Year’s Eve. The initial schedule for the CFP had two tripleheaders scheduled for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day throughout the 12-year contract with ESPN. That would have given a late-morning kickoff to the Orange Bowl, which has traditionally been played at night.

After the 2017 season, the semifinals will move back to the Sugar and Rose bowls on New Year’s Day.

“As we committed earlier this year, we have looked at the landscape for the upcoming season and are confident that this change will make it easier for more fans to watch the games on television and also will benefit fans who will attend the games in person,” Hancock said. “The semifinals will be played on Saturday for the first time. The Capital One Orange Bowl will be in an evening time slot, which is its tradition.”

The other three marquee bowls that are part of the playoff rotation – Cotton, Rose and Sugar – will be played Monday, Jan. 2, as previously scheduled, because Jan. 1 will fall on a Sunday dominated by NFL games.

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