Yesterday, the College Football Playoff announced the kickoff times for the six bowls affiliated with the system. It reminded people that the semifinal games will happen on New Year's Eve, and it set off a second firestorm of reaction about whether it's wise to schedule those games on a day when lots of people tend not to be around televisions.
The first one came in February when the CFP braintrust considered moving its December 31, 2015 games to January 2, 2016 and rejected it. They dug in their heels, asserting that the CFP will hold its games on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day and that's it. Well, except for when one of those falls on a Sunday, but you get the idea.
This time, the reaction was in part about how the semifinals are on New Year's Eve while three non-semifinals are on New Year's Day. Couldn't they just put the semifinals on the first?
Not long ago, Nick Saban complained that the focus on the playoff games last year diminished the importance of the other bowls. He wasn't right about that, but there definitely are concerns out there about the growing importance of the national championship since the BCS's inception has and will overshadow the bowl tradition. Certainly those fears will only grow if the playoff expands beyond four teams in the future.
The reason the semifinals aren't just going to be on the first is because a few months before the playoff contracts finalized, the Rose Bowl cut a deal to always be on January 1 (or January 2, in New Year's Sunday years). The Sugar Bowl cut the same deal, so those bowls get to always be on one of the first two days of the year.
The CFP folks are understandably unwilling to stage four of their games in one day, as that would require overlapping or prohibitively early or late time slots. Because two of the 1/1 or 1/2 slots are always taken, the semifinals will sometimes be on December 31 (or 30, in New Year's Sunday years).
You can argue about whether the Rose and Sugar bowls deserve such treatment, but they did get there first. The treatment also sends a message that bowl traditions, whether old ("the Grandaddy of them all") or new ("a new January bowl tradition is born"), still matter in the playoff age. It says that some big time bowls can have intrinsic value whether or not they help determine the national champion.
That's about all we have left of the past era when specific bowls did have such value. There was once a time where Big Ten and Pac-8/10 schools cared as much or more about the Rose Bowl as they did a national title. There was once a time where the pinnacle for an SEC team was to win the conference in order to go to the Sugar Bowl. Those times are largely gone, but having the Rose and Sugar have their special New Year's Day reservations keeps a small piece of them around.
The playoff affiliated bowls do overshadow the other bowls in the way that the BCS games did. The Cotton Bowl isn't even played in the Cotton Bowl anymore. It's a new age for the sport, but having two prestige bowls guaranteed to happen on January 1 is one bit of the past age we still have.