One nation, under college football

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.

34 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football

34 responses to “One nation, under college football

  1. Russ

    Talking to a friend of mine over the holidays. He and his kid came up with a plan where the top 64 teams are in one giant conference, split into divisions similar to the current conferences. Everyone plays 10 games minimum and the top 48 move on with playoff games. The bottom 16 are relegated to the lower division, and the top 16 from that division move up. He says it will preserve most of the current rivalries but you have to drop the cupcakes. The only problem I see is that teams lose from 1-3 games of revenue depending on how they finish.

    Sounds radical, but I’m to the point where I’d rather have a radical plan that preserves some of the things I like about college football, than have the ad hoc “plan” we have now. However, I know it will never happens because there’s too much money in the current system.

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  2. Bulldawg165

    It sounds like the 4-team playoff benefited the sport as a whole, even if it removes it from some of the old-time traditions.

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    • It’s a work in progress.

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      • As you highlighted, we are in the “isn’t this fuc$%^ing GREAT?” phase…soon to be followed by “how can we make this better? (‘better’ being a code word for more profitable)”

        I tend to treat slippery slope arguments with a hefty amount of skepticism, but you keep working on me Senator and you never know. 😉

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    • GoldToe

      You look at TCU, finished in the top 3 defense and top 8 offense, they were best team in the country, but didn’t get in.

      Oregon crushed FSU.

      Big mistake.

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      • FSU & Ohio St > TCU fan base wise. More eyeballs, more cashola. There’s now a plus one. This ain’t no playoff. Same as it ever was.
        Shoulda been Baylor over TCU anyway. Cuz u know, they won that game and all. Not that anybody cares…

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      • Denver94

        Oh sure, if schadenfreude isn’t your priority. Personally, I’ll probably watch Winston stumble back at least 5400 more times before it fades.

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  3. watcher16

    “…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 say that like it’s a bad thing. I’m glad more people are getting interested in college football. More passionate fans to discuss the sport with makes for better bar conversations

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    • watcher16

      Meant to include the last sentence of that quote:

      “You know, just like every other major commercial sporting enterprise.”

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    • A national audience replacing regional ones doesn’t translate into more passionate fans. Or don’t you follow college basketball?

      Where I suspect this ends up is with a 16-team playoff involving all conference champs and a bunch of wild cards being eligible. We’ll all get to fill out brackets and root for Cinderella.

      I know this will make some people happy. That’s cool. It won’t work for me, though.

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  4. GoldToe

    Playoff committee did pretty bad Bama got beat by a 3rd string Qb, not sure Ohio State would have beaten No 1 ranked defense Ole Miss.

    FSU was not the right choice, they had struggled to barely win games all year, TCU had a much better defense.

    Looking back, should have been Ohio State vs Ole Miss, and Oregon vs TCU.

    The playoff didn’t need a 3rd string Qb winning a game, or a 59-20 blowout. Both showed flaws.

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  5. ChilliDawg

    You’re not gonna keep folks at the Orange Bowl happy very long if they have to be on the outside looking in every few years. The same holds for the TCU’s who will argue they belong. Hancock looks like “Larry the Drink Guy” all dressed up. I’m sure he has another napkin in his back pocket with a “play-in” round (that would get them to 5 teams – satisfying the Big 5) and then another napkin with 8 teams (which would satisfy the major bowls). It will just be a case of who’s paying for the drinks.

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  6. Scorpio Jones, III

    I wonder how all this “national brand” conversation is playing in that famous nonprofit, the National Football League?

    Competition for viewers with your farm league…interesting.

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  7. Macallanlover

    I think she nails it with the increased interest angle, I loved the fans across the country paying attention to more than their own little world. CFB has always been national to me as I watch on Saturdays from 9 AM until after 1AM to catch as many games as I can. Then I browse the interwebs to get reaction from various team/fan sites until 3-4 AM.

    My only problem with the current situation is there is no solution for the 4 team model that creates the inequity, but this year was great at igniting the passion for getting it fixed. My only other “major” issue is the scheduling that layers too many quality TV games on top of one another, especially in the late afternoon and evening time slots. 2014 was a fantastic year for CFB, things will get better in the future.

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    • CFB has always been national to me as I watch on Saturdays from 9 AM until after 1AM to catch as many games as I can.

      This has only been a reality the past 10 years or so with explosion of cable television though. While I respect your viewpoint on the whole playoff discussion, you sometimes seem to miss what folks like myself and the Senator are concerned about. I didn’t get attracted to college football because I consumed it on television from sun up to sun down watching games across this great nation of ours. I fell in love with it because my family is from Athens and we’ve been following the Bulldogs for three generations now.That regional draw is of no concern to the playoff overlords. I have no doubt that games will continue to be entertaining and many, many people will watch. However, the intensely passionate, regional foundation that made college football so very special to me is being largely ignored in chase of that national audience of casual interest. I don’t understand why folks are so surprised that some of us might not find this sport as special anymore once it reaches that tipping point where a TV audience in New York is more important to the decision makers than the 90K at the game.

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      • Macallanlover

        A little oversight on the “always” portion of that statement. Like you, I grew up with the railroad tracks and crowd on the bridge and truly love the pageantry of CFB. But in the past 15 years I have reduced my in-stadium experiences to a very select number of games, usually one a year either home, or away. I did so not because I don’t have wonderful memories of Saturday afternoons, and especially Saturday nights, but because I didn’t like the changes, and hassles, of attending games as much. Add to the explosion of games available on TV, the weak home schedules, and it became easier to cherry pick my times. That in no way means I don’t understand your position, and appreciate it.

        My point wasn’t so much about how I spend my Saturdays, or think that is right for everyone, it was that the first year of playoffs broadened the view of many fans who have only viewed it via the tunnel of their one team. I think that is healthy for the sport I love, but I don’t love the Dawgs any less. I lived in NC for many years where basketball practice got the Sunday front page position on the sports page while CFB was a small paragraph for Top 25 teams only and a list of scores. And in Philadelphia where those Top 25 teams got a box score in tiny font and three top four sentences of a handful of games. Then in TN where a “sports bar” that had 6-12 TVs would have them all on one game….the Vols.

        So yes, I appreciate the national interest of fans of teams from all over the country who now know, and watch/follow the teams who are doing well, and know their schedules and can discuss them intelligently. That has to be good for CFB, if someone doesn’t screw it up. I listen daily to the CFB channel on SiriusXM and hear a much better conversation and dialogue than in years past…and not just because FBomb and his crew left for TV. I don’t like the NFL, rarely watch a quarter of any game until the college season is over, and I am no fan of their playoff model. I just don’t see my position and yours being mutually exclusive. Some prefer it live and don’t mind dealing with what I chose to give up, I have many friends who still do that, and we talk CFB all the time. It’s all good, just a stick or spray decision to me. Has the plethora of games available on TV hurt the stadium attendance, to some degree yes, but the bigger issue seems to be the lack of quality matchups because none of the games I choose to attend ever have extra tickets flying around.

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    • To clarify – we’re not crying Chicken Little the college football is going to end or anything. It’s probably going to be more profitable than ever. I’m sure I’ll continue watching it and enjoying it, but I doubt I’ll be as passionate about it once it hits that tipping point and that’s what upsets me about the whole money chase. The decision makers in CFB are going to make more money than they every dreamed was possible, but to use a cliche, they’re selling their souls (i.e. us) to do it.

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  8. Tronan

    The Senator has alluded to this quite a few times this bowl season in particular, but this is about TV programming first and foremost. We’re at a point with pro sports where local allegiances are a very distant second to luring a national audience. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but when the system is ultimately about ad revenue and merchandise sales, said local fans – the traditional ones, in other words – are not a primary concern. College football is at close to a tipping point in this regard; in fact, it probably just passed it once and for all with the playoff.

    Because it’ll probably lure more viewers get ready for at least an 8-team playoff in the near future. Pro leagues figured out a long time ago that increasing the post-season pool of teams lure viewers and, less importantly, gets asses in seats in stadiums at the end of the season.

    Lastly, if ESPN or other networks could pay leagues enough (and they just might be able to), then where the games are played could become largely irrelevant. In other words, the stadium would just be a backdrop – a big studio, in other words – and we could even see CGI could take the place of populating it.

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    • I should have read and referenced to your post before responding to Mac. You’ve touched on exactly my thoughts.

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      • Tronan

        Your comments above are spot on. I’ve always loved college football because of the regional differences and loyalties. I don’t give a rat’s ass about the NFL because it’s just a (nationaly) bidness appealing to a low common denominator. Too much in this land is bland and homogenous, and we’re losing (or have lost) one of the few big things that isn’t.

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