The network said Monday that the two dramatic College Football Playoff games produced the biggest average audience of any non-New Year’s Day semifinals. According to the network, an average of just over 22 million people watched Georgia beat Ohio State, 42-41, and an average of 21.4 million watched TCU beat Michigan, 51-45.
ESPN said Georgia’s win was the most-watched evening semifinal since the first year of the playoff. The prime-time semifinal in the first playoff was Ohio State’s win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
The good ratings aren’t much of a surprise given how Georgia, Michigan and Ohio State are three of the biggest programs in college football and the games were actually close. Entering Saturday, just three of 16 previous semifinal games had been decided by single digits. TCU’s win over Michigan tied Georgia’s win over Oklahoma in the 2019 Rose Bowl for the closest semifinal before Georgia’s dramatic comeback over Ohio State easily became the closest semifinal game ever.
The biggest scheduling flaw of the four-team playoff has been staging the semifinals on New Year’s Eve on a regular basis. With the four-team playoff beholden to the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, those two games have clung to their traditional Jan. 1 spots on the calendar — except when New Year’s is on a Sunday like in 2023 — and forced the playoff to have the semifinals on days other than Jan. 1 when those two games aren’t semifinal sites. The New Year’s Day semifinals have traditionally drawn far bigger audiences than the games played on any other day.
But the 2022 season is the last playoff with semifinals on New Year’s Eve. The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl are set to host next year’s semifinals on Jan. 1 and the playoff is expanding to 12 teams for the 2024 season. As of now, the expanded playoff will feature quarterfinal games on and around New Year’s Day before the semifinals a week later as the national title game is set to move back a week to the middle of January. The first 12-team national title game is set to happen on Jan. 20, 2025, in Atlanta.