College football’s Rose and Sugar bowls are traditionally on New Year’s Day. That’s not the case this year. They, along with the Cotton and the just-happy-to-be-involved Outback are bumped to Monday, Jan. 2, after the Playoff and a couple other games were on New Year’s Eve.
(The Playoff was on New Year's Eve, ICYMI. Alabama and Clemson won.)
This conveniently keeps some of college football’s biggest games from conflicting with the NFL’s final Sunday of the regular season.
But college football was here many decades before the NFL anyway, and this Sunday thing is more than a century old, since before TV ratings were even a thing.
I’ll explain why this part matters in a second, but the first thing here: the organizers of Pasadena’s Rose Parade, which later birthed the Rose Bowl, decided that in 1893 they wouldn’t hold the event on Sunday. The Rose Bowl explains:
The Tournament wanted to avoid frightening horses that would be hitched outside churches and thus interfering with worship services so the events were moved to the next day, January 2. Though horses are no longer outside local churches, the tradition remains to this day.
The parade began inviting college football teams to the first-ever bowl game in 1902, and that game’s followed the parade’s schedule. The 2016 season’s game, between Penn State and USC, will be the 14th Jan. 2 Rose Bowl.
If not for that tradition, who knows, maybe the NFL and college football would've found it mutually beneficial along the way to leave the 4 p.m. ET window open for the Rose on New Year's Day. The league does tend to avoid competing with Saturday FBS games. So it's quite possible that our current setup is more about those horses than it is about the NFL.
The Rose Bowl’s remained more or less the biggest bowl for most of the time since, later becoming part of the BCS system and a key part of the College Football Playoff’s New Year’s Six group, which now means hosting semifinals once every three years. Its East Coast/Midwest vs. West Coast vibe evolved into today’s usual Big Ten vs. Pac-12 setup.
It’s such an important game that its insistence on New Year’s Day complicated the Playoff’s schedule.
Two out of every three years under the original setup, Playoff semifinals were going to be held on New Year’s Eve, when many people prefer to do things besides watching TV. (The Playoff has since fixed this for future years.)
The Sugar Bowl kicks off right after the Rose these days, but has landed anywhere between Dec. 31 and Jan. 4 since it started in 1935. New Year’s Day has been its most common day, though, and its conference partners (the Big 12 and SEC) like associating it with the Rose.
Going forward, we’ll get a decent game or two before the Rose, and that’ll be the New Year’s Day schedule. Except when it’s on the day after New Year’s Day. Because some California horses couldn’t be disturbed in 1893. That’s fine.