WASHINGTON — For the first time, the Winter Classic is sharing New Year’s Day with college football games that actually matter.

Watch outdoor hockey in the afternoon and then go out for dinner? Or plan your day so that you’re home in time for the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl at night?

Brooks Laich thinks it should be a slam-dunk decision.

“This is one of my favorite catchphrases to use of all time: ‘Who cares? It’s college,’ ” the Washington Capitals defenseman said.

The NHL’s annual showcase has been able to establish a beachhead on Jan. 1 in part because college football essentially abandoned what used to be its biggest day, populating it with run-of-the-mill bowls and saving the big ones for later. This year, they’re trying to take it back.

Then again, there might be room for both. Now in its seventh year, the Classic has established enough of a presence to withstand a bit of competition.

“I’m a football fan like most people in this country,” Washington Coach Barry Trotz said. “But you also get tired of it, too, and I think the Winter Classic is that one thing that’s different during this time of year that I think everybody gravitates to.”

It would help if the games don’t go head-to-head. That’s the plan, but the sun might mess it up.

The 1 p.m. start Thursday between the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals at Nationals Park is in jeopardy because cloudless skies are in the forecast. The sun would create a dangerous glare, making the puck hard to see and causing the ice to soften. If faceoff is moved to, say, 3 p.m. – after shadows have covered the rink – then the end of the game could conflict with the start of the Rose Bowl.

A decision isn’t expected until shortly before game time. There’s talk of switching sides halfway through the first period so that the glare would hamper both teams equally, and some players say they might emulate Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, who wore sunglasses at Wednesday’s practice.

“Nobody wants to delay the game,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “So if there’s any way we can avoid delaying the game, we’re going to avoid delaying the game.”