12 hours of football: How NFL, college championship games overlapped on same Saturday in 2020

Written By Billy Heyen

Neutral football fans will have tough choices to make on Saturday, Dec. 19, because the NFL is overlapping a doubleheader with college football conference championship games. 

Normally, the NFL's Saturday games in December don't have an issue with college football except for the occasional low-end bowl game. But the pushed-back 2020 college football calendar resulted in quite the schedule conflict. For some, it's obvious whether they'll want to watch Bills vs. Broncos and Packers vs. Panthers or one of the many college football options. For others, the choice to watch Trevor Lawrence play Notre Dame is appealing but not obviously the best one.

Below, we've explained why this scheduling conflict exists, and we've laid out a possible viewing plan for your football-heavy Saturday.

Why is the NFL playing on Saturday?

The NFL has been playing games on Saturdays in December every year but one (2013) since 1970. It's usually either a week or two of Saturday games prior to the final week of the regular season, when all the games are on Sunday.

The league released the full schedule in May, with finalized dates and times (aside from flexing games) all out by September. While things were by no means normal, the NFL had no reason to alter its tradition of playing on Saturday in December.

It usually makes total sense for the NFL to fill a football vacuum on a late-December Saturday since college football is into bowl season by then, with none of the major bowls taking place until later in the month and into January. The NFL's desire to grab as many eyeballs as possible can be reached by playing Saturdays when college football is at a minimum. Of course, the altered schedule in 2020 created more competition for viewing. 

As usual, though, the NFL will likely win a big chunk of the Saturday pie anyway, because that's what the NFL does. 

Why are the conference championship games in late December?

College football conferences started their seasons all over the map, with some mostly on schedule and others, like the Big Ten, getting going after a huge delay. The conferences also built in an open week or two to help reschedule games postponed by COVID-19. 

Eventually, the college football conferences aligned that the weekend including Saturday, Dec. 19 would be the time to play conference championship games. Normally, they're a week or two earlier (2019's ACC Championship took place on Dec. 7).

The pushed-back schedule created the overlap with the NFL. College football didn't have much choice with the way its season wound up, needing to play the conference title games on a Saturday before bowl season. This year, that happens to match up with an NFL Saturday doubleheader. 

The optimal football viewing plan

If you want to sit on your couch and watch football for 12 straight hours, it's definitely possible Saturday. Here's how you could lay out your day's viewing (all times ET):

  • 12:00-2:00 p.m.: Start off with the Big Ten championship (Fox) game between Ohio State and Northwestern. Most likely, it'll be out of hand after two hours, giving us an opportunity to change the channel after enjoying Justin Fields.
  • 2:00-3:30 p.m.: The Big 12 championship (ABC) between Oklahoma and Iowa State should be closer than the Big Ten's title game, meaning it'll be a more riveting second half. Leave room to adjust if Northwestern is mounting an upset bid.
  • 3:30-4:00 p.m.: This was supposed to be our half hour window to enjoy Coastal Carolina against Louisiana in the Sun Belt Championship. That was canceled due to a COVID-19 issue with Coastal, meaning it's a perfect time to eat, use the bathroom and gear up for the next eight hours. 
  • 4:00-4:30 p.m.: Get to ABC for the start of the ACC championship, a Clemson vs. Notre Dame rematch. We'll be back.
  • 4:30-5:15 p.m.: The Bills and Broncos kick off NFL action at 4:30, and Josh Allen is entertaining enough that you should fit him into your day a bit. This game won't be that close, though, so NFL Network won't be on your TV for long.
  • 5:15-5:30 p.m.: Gotta give a little love to the Mountain West championship (Fox) between Boise State and San Jose State, but only a little.
  • 5:30-8:00 p.m.: As long as Clemson and Notre Dame is close, this is where we're staying for the duration. If it gets out of hand, pick the closer contest between Bills-Broncos and Boise State-San Jose State and ride it out.
  • 8:00-9:30 p.m.: Alabama and Florida play in the SEC championship game (CBS), which the Crimson Tide should control despite the Gators' small chase of a playoff berth. By 9:30, it's possible Nick Saban and Mac Jones have this game well in hand.
  • 9:30-10:30 p.m.: Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams should be wrapping up a first-half blowout of Carolina (NFL Network) when you get to this game. This wouldn't be a bad time to breathe, drink some water and eat some food, too.
  • 10:30-bedtime: Flip over to the American Conference championship (ABC), where Tulsa will be playing Cincinnati. The Bearcats should win to move to 9-0, but they still won't make the College Football Playoff. End your day ticked off at a rigged process. 

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