College Football Playoff Stunned, but Not Knocked Out, by NFL Schedule Release as League Comes Out Swinging in CFB Fight

    The NFL schedule release places pressure on the College Football Playoff with an intended knockout blow. But can the sport take it on the chin?

    What will you be watching on December 21? Since the introduction of the 12-team College Football Playoff format, the “amateur” and professional versions of football have been on a power-trip collision course, buoyed by the arrogance of the shield to assert its authority with an extra late-December game that competes directly with a marquee Saturday CFB event.

    After some pre-fight posturing — where the NFL reportedly pressured the College Football Playoff to move their three-game Round 1 Saturday slate — the league unleashed a powerful right hook with the NFL schedule release, purposefully designed to leave college football (and its postseason showcase) out cold on the floor. Does the CFB Playoff have the chin to absorb the blow?

    College Football Playoff Rocked by Headline-Making NFL Schedule Release, but Can Still Win the Fight

    For over a year now, we’ve known that the first round of the 2024-2025 College Football Playoff would take place on December 20 and 21, with three on-campus games slated for Saturday. When the NFL announced an extra game on December 21, to be broadcast nationally on NBC in a college football window, it drew battle lines for an epic faceoff.

    During Wednesday night’s NFL schedule release, the NFL unfurled the full might of its right hook, announcing that the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans would play that Saturday, with a 1 p.m. ET kickoff, putting it in direct conflict with the College Football Playoff and potentially one of the biggest and best teams in the nation.

    It’s no coincidence that the NFL has wheeled out the Chiefs and the Texans on December 21. It’s a pressure play. It’s a power play. It’s a move designed to floor the College Football Playoff, threaten it with diminished viewership, and ultimately attempt to send the leadership behind the CFB Playoff scurrying back to the drawing board to revise their calendar.

    There are fewer more enticing matchups from the NFL’s schedule release than the Chiefs and the Texans.

    If you’re a fan of the Sunday version of the sport, there are few more appetizing encounters than the reigning Super Bowl champions, led by former Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, taking on a Texans team brimming with talent on defense and led offensively by former Ohio State standout and Heisman Trophy finalist — not to mention AP Offensive Rookie of the Year — C.J. Stroud.

    The NFL has purposefully placed a game that would ordinarily be a Sunday Night Football contender directly into CFP territory, in an attempt to win a fight.

    It’s a battle of hearts, of minds, of something else ordinarily used as a measuring stick between two male protagonists. But will it succeed in its bid to monopolize the airwaves on December 21?

    Very few entities can challenge the shield. We’ve seen people, groups, and organizations try and fail over the years. The NCAA is hardly a prize fighter to take on the shield, either.

    But this isn’t about the NCAA. The College Football Playoff is an entirely different beast, independent from the body that governs collegiate athletics, including football, during the regular season.

    Furthermore, college football is its own entity, a 134-team (FBS) strong, fire-breathing, upper-cut possessing force of nature capable of asserting its own pressure. Just ask EA Sports.

    College football doesn’t set its calendar around a pizzazz-laden event mere months before the action gets underway as the NFL schedule release does. It’s forged years in advance, with marks on calendars not even produced in the depths of Workman Publishing Company yet already in place for some out-of-conference matchups.

    The College Football Playoff isn’t simply going to shift the competing game to Friday night, as the NFL would have them do. The brand is strong enough to withstand and absorb this blow.

    And this is without even knowing the matchup that college football will send into battle against the Chiefs and Texans — which, in Week 16, may ultimately have zero relevance on the NFL season in terms of who makes the NFL playoffs.

    MORE: Projecting the 2024-2025 College Football Playoff

    The format of the 12-team College Football Playoff, however, could throw together a matchup that would easily rival the blow dealt by the NFL’s schedule release. While the top four seeded teams won’t be in action, that doesn’t mean the nation’s most well-supported programs won’t be.

    There’s a conceivable world where Michigan vs. Alabama both end up in Round 1 of the CFB Playoff, and that clash in the Rose Bowl last season drew the highest television audience of any game, including the national championship. Some of these Round 1 games are going to be must-watch television, buoyed by electric environments in on-campus locations.

    The appetite for college football has never been stronger. During the 2023-2024 bowl season, ESPN saw a 5% increase in viewership from the previous year. Furthermore, the exclusive home of the College Football Playoff saw a 12% increase in viewership for the seven-game slate of the playoff and New Year’s Six Bowl games.

    Those games, which will form part of the extended 12-team CFP format, averaged 15.1 million viewers — more than the Week 16 NFL game between divisional rivals Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, which drew 14.29 million viewers on December 23, 2023.

    After seeing a 3% decrease in viewership in 2022, the NFL experienced its own boom last fall, with a 7% increase. In order to maintain that momentum, they’ve experimented with various TV deals and gimmicks. And now they’re attempting to corner the market on a day ordinarily reserved for college football.

    KEEP READING: 2024 Strength of Schedule for All 134 FBS College Football Teams

    The NFL could have placed an extra game on December 28, when there are no College Football Playoff games scheduled. The league could have challenged a broadcasting law dating back to 1961 and played on the second Sunday of December, piggybacking off the interest in the Army-Navy Game to play an early evening clash, creating a patriotic double act.

    Yet, the NFL has targeted the first round of the College Football Playoff and used the schedule release to wield the heaviest hit it can muster. While college football may be stunned by a hammer blow, the league is about to discover that the “amateur” version of the sport has the chin to take the punch, the stomach to leap off the canvas, and the heart and soul to win the fight.

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