DALLAS — Earlier this week, the NFL announced that it would be playing a regular-season game on a new day each year: Black Friday.
For years, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has been a post-holiday smorgasbord of college football. In a way, Black Friday belongs to the sport, a fabric of its existence, just like Saturdays in the fall, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
These are traditional college football days.
Well, not anymore.
The NFL continues to encroach on the territory that has for years belonged to its free farm system. Black Friday is only the latest. The NFL starts playing regular-season games on Saturdays in mid-December, has expanded its own playoff to create an additional wild-card game and has started to dominate Thursday nights with the league’s streaming package on Amazon.
All of this has college football executives rightfully stewing as they attempt to schedule eight additional games in an expanded playoff—all the while trying to avoid going head-to-head with America’s No. 1 sport.
“You’re just trying to minimize all the ways the NFL will f— you,” says one top CFP official.
The CFP Management Committee, the 10 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, met for seven hours on Thursday in Dallas in yet another attempt to finalize details of the new 12-team playoff. And while the NFL’s takeover of Black Friday has no impact on expansion playoff games, it’s another dagger from the big league fired at its little brother.
One of the main issues that commissioners are haggling over seems very simple but isn’t at all: When do you play the games? And to that end, do you go head-to-head against the NFL?
Commissioners are starting to grapple with the answer: Yes, you do.
“The NFL is squashing us,” says one commissioner. “And now Black Friday? Where does it end?”
There was, however, some good news Thursday. Commissioners emerged from their exhaustive meeting with optimism that they can expand by 2024 or ’25, the earliest years possible. That said, the window is closing quickly, and there are still plenty of issues beyond the NFL, explored here by SI. A decision must be made soon on 2024.
“Time is not on our side,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock repeated a few times during an interview with reporters.
Thursday marked the third such in-person gathering of commissioners since the CFP executive board of presidents adopted the expanded playoff on Sept. 2. They strongly encouraged commissioners to find a way to implement the playoff earlier than 2026, when the CFP contract with ESPN expires. Several presidents, in fact, spoke to SI earlier this week about their feeling on expansion: They want it as soon as possible… or else.
“If it was just up to the 11 presidents, we would get it done,” says SMU president R. Gerald Turner.
Says Washington State president Kirk Schulz: “What you don’t want is the presidents getting together again and making another decision. There’s a clock ticking here.”
Alas, it’s not so easy, especially with the NFL so involved.
“Every time you turn over one stone, you start tripping on the issues. It’s more challenging than I would maybe have imagined,” says MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, who chaired Thursday’s meeting.
During the meeting, Hancock and his staff posted a calendar on the meeting room wall that detailed holidays, on-campus graduation ceremonies and, yes, the NFL’s own schedule. Commissioners have established tentative dates for the expanded CFP’s four rounds, but nothing is concrete. And there are NFL conflicts abound:
“What can we do about NFL dates?” asks CFP executive director Bill Hancock. “I’m not ready to report anything about what we’ve decided to do, but we are aware of those.”
College football wants to avoid playing too deep into January, but that might be impossible for years 2024 and ’25. In ’26, when a new contract is established between the CFP and media partners, things might look much different.
There is talk that the entire regular season could move up a week, turning Week 0 into Week 1, sliding conference championship weekend from December to Thanksgiving weekend. That moves rivalry weekend up a week, too.
It provides more flexibility for such a tight December window while assuring that the sport doesn’t get too deep into January. They want to avoid infringing on NFL property, just like the NFL is infringing on theirs. In fact, the new 365-day college football calendar features a note about lifting the waiver for Week 0 games, as explored by SI here and here. It’s a sign that a shift in the regular season is coming.
For now, though, until it moves up the regular season, college football is stuck. It’s up against the biggest beast in American sport, a goliath who refuses to assist its farm league, the big dog who is biting the hand that feeds it.
“They don’t care,” says one CFP official. “We’ve got to decide when to play our games. If we go head-to-head, they’ll be hurt too.”
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