Heather Dinich, of all people, gets the long-term trend to which this first college football playoff has contributed.
By doubling the number of teams contending for the sport’s greatest prize, the playoff simultaneously broadened the scope of interest in the entire season and drew the attention of fans and coaches to more games outside their region into a race that criss-crossed the country like never before.
Ohio State mattered to Baylor. TCU was leery of Mississippi State. Boise State was watching Marshall, which kept an eye on just about every other league frontrunner in the Group of 5. Everyone was tuned in to the Big 12 — a controversial conference race that became a national storyline only because the inaugural playoff made it one.
“You’re all in one big conference now,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
Her article focuses on how the coaches dealt with the season, but the more important story is how the sport is changing from one based on strong regional fan affiliation to where it’s viewed as a more homogeneous, national one. You know, just like every other major commercial sporting enterprise.
It didn’t start with the playoff, of course. We’ve already gotten indications of the new direction with conference realignment and the wholesale uprooting of traditions in its wake. The postseason is simply contributing to the process. Accelerating it. And it’s changing our mindset.
“Absolutely, all of those other teams that were kind of in it — the Marshalls and where Ohio State was going to fit between Baylor and TCU — I think it added and made it better for the fans and people involved to pay more attention to not just their teams but all the teams, which helped us,” Harsin said. “We probably got a few more fans on the East Coast staying up late to watch what Boise State does to see if that’s going to affect Marshall or whatever.”
I don’t think this is necessarily what people like Delany and Slive planned as they set things in motion. (ESPN, on the other hand…) But it’s where it’s going nonetheless. And that’s why many of our assumptions about how the postseason will adapt and change in the future are likely inaccurate, because they’re based in a context that is becoming outmoded. What we should probably be asking ourselves in the near future is what helps the suits market the sport to a national audience, and not just what sells in, say, Tuscaloosa.
You need a hint? Here’s one.