College Football Playoff helmet Nov 17, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; A helmet with the College Football Playoff logo at CFP press conference at Banc of California Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 12-team version of the College Football Playoff makes its debut this year, and the consternation around its schedule remains. Back in 2022, reports had the CFP looking at Friday-Saturday games in the third week of December for the opening round, with those games likely overlapping with the NFL’s historical use of that Week 16 weekend for Saturday games. And that was pegged as an issue even then. But it now seems to be drawing more traction, as John Ourand wrote in his “The Varsity” newsletter at Puck Thursday:

Those opening-round games are scheduled for December 20 and 21 this year. The latter date, as you surely know from consulting your Farmer’s Almanac, falls on a Saturday—and the NFL historically schedules games on that day, which is set up to be Week 16 this year. (Last season, the NFL scheduled two games on its Week 16 Saturday: the Bengals-Steelers on NBC and the Bills-Chargers on Peacock.) It’s the same deal the following year, too: The C.F.P.’s opening-round games are on Friday and Saturday.

Multiple sources have told me that executives in the league office were not happy about C.F.P.’s chutzpah in scheduling games that day, and they have been left scratching their heads as to why C.F.P. would encroach on their veritable turf.

Is this a matter of grave consequence, on the level with munitions funding for Ukraine or climate change? That, it is not. But NFL executives are aggrieved because C.F.P. officials met with them as they worked through the schedule, and simply did not take heed of the league’s desire to schedule games on that Saturday.

…Executives who have done business with the NFL fully expect the league to dig in and schedule its own games on that Saturday. 

…A league source described the mood inside the NFL as closer to befuddlement than anger. The NFL has worked with college football on scheduling issues for decades, and the two organizations have an age-old détente in place that lets them carve up fall weekends.

As Ourand notes, this is not necessarily an ongoing crisis. The current overlap is for 2024 and 2025 only, although 2026 could bring new issues if the CFP decides to expand to 16 teams then. And while NFL executives may express “befuddlement” here, it’s notable that this is not a one-sided turf war. Indeed, the discussion on this in 2022 saw college football figures bashing the NFL for expanding into traditional college football days such as Black Friday, and saw officials there saying they were “just trying to minimize all the ways the NFL will f— you.”

At the moment, it does look like those first-round CFP games will air on Dec. 20 and 21. So the ball is in the NFL’s court on how to react. They can absolutely continue with their traditional scheduling model, and their games will probably still do well there, and that could potentially set up great headlines for them if their regular-season games beat the first-round CFP games in the ratings. Or they could go away from scheduling on that weekend and find other times to do Saturday games (perhaps even the weekend directly before, not impacted by conference championship games). But that carries the appearance of caving to someone else, something the NFL very much does not like doing.

There really aren’t necessarily good options here for either side. Yes, the CFP could avoid the NFL entirely if they held these games on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but those are not days that have traditionally seen great CFB audiences. Yes, the NFL could avoid the CFP if they changed their late-season Saturday approach, but they’re not used to moving for anyone else, and the current approach has some history working for it. So this may wind up as a clash of the titans indeed. And we’ll see both how this works out, and what it sets up for potential CFP expansion in 2026.

[Puck News]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.