The CFP semifinals, a new tradition for New Year's Eve

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Posted: Dec 29, 2015 4:25 PM
The CFP semifinals, a new tradition for New Year's Eve

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Sometime around 8 p.m. on New Year's Eve, Rochelle Carrasco and Jeremy Jehnsen will be having their first dance as a newly married couple.

All eyes at the reception will be on them for those few minutes — no small feat since they'll be having that dance in Lansing, Michigan, around the same time as kickoff of the Michigan State-Alabama matchup in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

And most of their bridal party is, you guessed it, Michigan State fans.

"I'm getting my moment," Carrasco said, "and then they can have their TV."

Out with the old traditions, in with the new. The NFL might own Thanksgiving, the NBA dominates the sports-watching landscape on Christmas and bowl games have long been part of New Year's Day. Now, college football is now trying to claim New Year's Eve as well, meaning plenty of people, including those at the Carrasco-Jehnsen nuptials, will be adjusting their end-of-year plans.

Including Thursday's matchups in the Orange and Cotton bowls, the CFP semifinals are scheduled to fall on Dec. 31 eight times between now and 2025. Those in charge of the playoff are confident they'll be a big draw, even if they compete with the ball drop.

"Frankly, these games would be a success if they were played on the Fourth of July," CFP executive director Bill Hancock said.

It's all part of what is now being called the New Year's Six — this year's lineup being the Peach Bowl preceding the two semifinal games on Dec. 31, then the Fiesta, Rose and Sugar bowls on Jan. 1.

"We wanted to bring them all back into the holiday," Hancock said, noting that under the Bowl Championship Series model the games were more scattered.

This year's early game, Clemson vs. Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, should be over long before midnight comes. But the Michigan State-Alabama game in the Cotton Bowl could stretch to midnight Eastern time. And given that some 40 million viewers watched New Year's countdown programming on ABC, NBC, Fox and CNN last year, that could lead to some interesting remote-control choices as the big moment nears.

"There are still tens of millions of people in the available audience at home," said Artie Bulgrin, ESPN's senior vice president of global research and analytics.

The network also wants to count all the viewers who aren't at home. Nielsen doesn't currently measure them as part of its standard metrics, but it's providing a custom study for ESPN of the audiences in bars and restaurants — numbers the network could use to drive advertising revenue in the future.

ESPN was comfortable the semifinals could draw huge audiences on New Year's Eve, but because of a quirk in the 2015 calendar, the network asked about a year ago to make a one-time change to hold the semis Jan. 2 because it fell on a Saturday. But CFP officials didn't want to switch up the schedule in the first season of New Year's Eve semifinals.

"Frankly I wish we'd discovered it sooner and had earlier conversations," said Burke Magnus, ESPN's executive vice president for programming and scheduling.

Like many, Hancock likes having the midnight dance with his own wife on New Year's Eve, and thinks this year's schedule — the game in South Florida ending before midnight, the game in north Texas probably ending before midnight local time there — will give people time for their champagne toast.

"To some extent, it was a factor," Hancock said.

Around the country — and particularly in the greater East Lansing and Tuscaloosa areas, since Michigan State and Alabama will be the game that flirts with a midnight finish — traditional New Year's plans are being adjusted for the big game.

Tom Bramson owns a number of bars and nightclubs in the heart of Michigan State territory, among other places. His wait staffs are usually clad in black and white; on Thursday night, they'll all be in Spartan gear. And the red tablecloths and party favors have been ditched, lest a reveler think they're too close to Alabama colors.

His nightclubs might take a New Year's Eve hit because of the interest in the game, he said. His sports bars, they'll be positively jammed.

"We can't predict everything that'll happen, for sure," Bramson said. "What we know is where else do you want to be on midnight on New Year's Eve in East Lansing if we win that game than downtown and with a great group of people. We've also got the No. 1 basketball team in East Lansing. What a special time it is — and what a special time it could be."

And what a special night it will be for Carrasco and Jehnsen.

A couple of their invited guests aren't coming to the wedding because of the game. Most others just wanted to make sure they wouldn't miss it all, Carrasco said, so arrangements were made to bring a television into their reception facility. The site doesn't have cable, so the Michigan State game will be streamed there instead.

Her guests will be told no phones for the first dance. Kickoff will be missed. After that, Carrasco will share her night with the Spartans.

"It's starting to get a little complicated," Carrasco said. "I was hoping for a noon game. That didn't happen. But it's going to be great night."

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AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen in New York contributed to this report.