January 2025 and 2026 has something special for you…at least if you enjoy watching football on TV. And based on the high rankings for both the NFL and the NCAA, you do.
The College Football Playoff is expanding into the 2024 season (which will end in early 2025).
There will be 12 teams with four rounds of competition. Due to pre-existing scheduling challenges, the playoff will stretch out, driving excitement deep into January (the title match will be on Martin Luther King Day, or the 20th). This was generally a time on the sports calendar owned only by the NFL playoffs.
The result, combined with the previously expanded NFL playoffs (14 teams of 12), is an unprecedented football viewing experience.
Namely, college football will stage its semifinals on the Thursday and Friday evenings before the NFL weekend, which sees six games played over three days. Results:
Thursday, January 9: College semi-finals
Friday, January 10: College Semi-Finals
Saturday, January 11: Two-game NFL Playoffs
Sunday, January 12: Three-game NFL playoffs
Monday, January 13: NFL Playoff
This is five consecutive days/nights of playoff events, featuring eight matches on two different levels of the sport.
This is not just a lot of football. This is a whole lot of high-stakes, high-intensity soccer.
Repeats in 2026, except for the College Semi-Finals, which begins on Thursday, January 8.
The five-night football smorgasbord has a window of at least two years.
This is all temporary, as college football prefers to avoid as much of the NFL’s ratings and attention table as possible. As such, the NCAA will likely shift the entire football season by a week — starting with Labor Day.
This will allow two rounds of playoffs to take place in December and the semi-finals to be played on New Year’s Day (which will again become a college football holiday). The title game will still be in early January.
Until then, we have a difficult transition period.
The first-round college football games will be played on campus on Friday, December 20 (one game) and Saturday, December 21 (three games). This would clash with regular season NFL games played on Saturdays. It will undoubtedly affect college rankings, but the NFL will suffer a bit, too. Either way, for the fans, that weekend becomes its own football paradise. Options are always good.
The College Quarterfinals will then begin with one game on New Year’s Eve and three on New Year’s Day.
Then comes the semi-finals on the Thursday and Friday before the weekend.
None of this is perfect, but that’s the reality of college football. They wasted many years fighting against the inevitable expansion of the playoffs that the NFL devoured in key dates.
There are downsides. Playing the semi-finals on weeknights at neutral sites (the sport will never leave the bowl industry) is challenging for traveling fans and attendees. And the semi-final sized game late Thursday at work/school is problematic.
However, he played the semi-finals before A wild weekend (instead of Showdown or the following Monday) should do wonders for building games. Better to be on the road to the NFL than a direct competition or an afterthought.
The three matches played last year (two semi-finals and the title game) averaged 20.4 million viewers.
The NFL weekend alone brought in 28.4 million. The last three game draws for the college playoffs aren’t even close. The AFC and NFC Championship games averaged 50.1 million, while Kansas City defeated Philadelphia in the Super Bowl drew 115.1 million.
College football must remain unique. It has its quirks, traditions, and passions. The goal shouldn’t be to become NFL-Lite.
However, if NFL fans ready for a big football weekend are exposed to the unique blend of emotion and action in college football, some of them will be hooked. The sport has amazing growth potential, mainly by tapping into the big city fans and spectators who haven’t had the college game instilled in their DNA the way many in the South and Midwest have.
We’ll see, but we know that by January of 2025, when the weather’s cold, the sun is still setting early and the post-holiday slump has set in, there will be a five-day sprint to watch football like never seen before.
That would be great. And you will probably watch every minute.