There was much trepidation this football season as to whether the new committee system of participant selection in the playoff for the National College Football Championship would actually work. The first week that the committee announced its rankings, they included three teams from the SEC West — and outside of the South, there was a sinking feeling that the playoffs would be narrow and pedestrian. As the year went on, the rankings became more ecumenical. In the end, the only controversial choice was Ohio State, and the committee was redeemed. Their process resulted in a television ratings bonanza.
Last Monday night’s game, the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship, with Ohio State beating Oregon, posted the highest ratings in the history of ESPN and of cable television. Over 33 million viewers tuned in to watch the broadcast. That was a 21 percent jump over the ratings for last year’s championship game in which Florida State beat Auburn. But this year’s game was only close going into the third quarter. After that Ohio State pulled away and won by over three touchdowns. Last year’s game was a nail-biter — Florida State won on the last drive of the game. It makes the ratings increase even more dramatic.
The only game with higher ratings was the 2006 Rose Bowl played for the National Championship, which had 35.6 million viewers. That game, however, was shown on a major network (ABC). The result was in the balance until Texas QB Vince Young pranced into the end zone with virtually no time remaining. SC represented the nation’s second largest media market, and Texas had large media markets like Houston, Dallas and Austin to draw from. Contrast that with Oregon, which has Portland, and Ohio, which features Columbus, Dayton and Cleveland.
What these ratings teach us is that there is a fascination nationally with the process that leads to selection. There is an intrigue to a National Championship that is decided on the field. Any system will lead to controversy. Whether there are four, six or eight teams included — those that barely missed will feel slighted. The debate and discussion is part of the fun that creates interest. The irony was that this was a game which traditionally would have constituted the Big 10 versus the Pac 12 in the Rose Bowl. The Committee provided a splendid match-up and the nation responded by watching.