How did college football go from regional amateur games to one of the biggest sporting competitions in the country? Four letters, says the New York Times: E, S, P, and N. By pumping billions of dollars into the game through purchasing TV rights, ESPN (and others, but overwhelmingly ESPN) has transformed it into a nationwide professionalized sporting empire—and one where ESPN gets to call many of the shots. The network sets the schedules, organizes the games, and has the power to bestow fame on schools, players, and coaches.
Take Texas A&M, which last year moved from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference, which has closer ties to ESPN. A visit from ESPN's "GameDay" program at the start of the season netted it an estimated $6.5 million in exposure. Meanwhile, the network started to pay attention to Johnny Manziel, promoting him on various football shows all season. He went on to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. “If we were in the Big 12, I don’t know that Johnny Manziel would have won the Heisman," says Texas' athletic director. Meanwhile, says the Times, Boise State's rise can be tied to its willingness to let its student athletes play on weeknights. ESPN promoted the team in prime time on its midweek schedule, helping establish the college as a "national brand." And coaching recruiters say they now consider how "telegenic" a prospective coach is in their decisions. There is way more worth reading in the full article.