The NFL and CFP are looking at head-to-head competition.

The NFL appears to want to take over almost every day of the week (well Tuesdays are is the only 24-hour periods off the table; for now). The Philadelphia Eagles open the 2024 season on a Friday in Brazil. And the league reversed course and will play two games on Christmas Day, which is on a Wednesday this year, once again savaging the NBA’s long standing play on that holiday after debuting on the 25th of December last season with a triple-header.

But what does the NFL think of the inverse and the competition coming onto its turf? The expanded College Football Playoff is slated to stage three early round games on December 21, the Saturday before Christmas Day. The NFL has for some time scheduled games on late December Saturdays such as that one.

College football and the NFL during the prior’s regular season largely cannot compete due to the 1961 antitrust law that allows the league to pool its teams’ TV rights and sell as a package. That law, the Sports Broadcasting Act, prohibits NFL games on Fridays and Saturdays running from the second Friday in September to the second Saturday in December. But the CFP and NFL have largely sought to avoid major scheduling conflicts during the bowl season and playoffs.

So what does the NFL think of the CFP on December 21, a move that is sure to affect the viewership that day?

“I’m not sure it changes much what we do, we’ve been in those windows traditionally,” said Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s chief media and business officer. “I mean, we’ve always just, regardless of the competition, put the strongest games (on), now, it’s not changing. You know, so we can’t control what they do. We’ve had a long history of sort of working with them. But I think they probably see that they have limited windows to play on Saturday, which is their choice, and we were like, we’re still going to do what we do.”

That sounds like the NFL is not totally pleased over the scheduling conflict, with Rolapp pointing out the past track record of “working with them.”

Right now, ESPN has the rights to the expanded CFP, though it is always possible the network sub-licenses a game or more to another outlet. If the games are on ESPN, that also means fewer NFL pregame shows on ESPN that day that serve to further promote the football league.

The NFL and college football have always had a symbiotic relationship. The collegiate ranks serve as the unofficial minor leagues of the NFL, and the two parties have long tap danced the best they could around the other’s schedule.

As college football has grown into a big business, conflicting with the NFL’s commercial bandwidth is in one respect inevitable. College football went from one season ending championship, the entrants determined by a poll, to the four team playoff seen over the last 10 seasons. Now the playoff expands to 12 teams, with 14 coming as the not-so-far next iteration. So finding the right dates that don’t conflict with big brother proved not possible at least as it comes to the second to last Saturday in December.

That day now becomes a sports spectacular, with five football games, not to mention the usual accouterments of NBA and NHL contests. That is sure to eat into the NFL’s boffo TV ratings that day, though taken in the context of 272 regular season contests, the Dec 21 football-palooza is sure to have a minimal effect on total league viewership next season.

The NFL is the 900-pound gorilla of U.S. sports, so other sports leagues do their best to avoid conflicts. Because the NFL plays on Monday and Thursday nights, MLB’s World Series usually has one game scheduled at the same time. Last year MLB avoided Sunday, but Game 3 competed against a Monday Night Football contest. That game drew a record low World Series audience.

The CFP clearly saw no other choice with a tripling of the teams in the postseason tournament but to schedule on December 21 and go head-to-head with the NFL. If the playoff bracket is expanded by two more teams, where the extra competition is placed and whether or not it crosses paths with the NFL again is something worth watching.

About Daniel Kaplan

Daniel Kaplan has been covering the business of sports for more than two decades. A proud founding reporter of SportsBusiness Journal, he spent the last four years at The Athletic.