Behind The Scenes

Daylong basketball marathon includes dream games for sleepless fans

Editor’s note: Schools participating in the College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon are encouraged to tweet pictures, updates and comments capturing the atmosphere of the games throughout the day to @ESPN_CollHoops with #tipoff and on Facebook

The college basketball season is underway and we are hours away from the College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon Presented by Disney Parks on Tuesday, Nov. 15 beginning at midnight ET.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Marathon will serve as the celebration of the tip off of the season with 21 live games — 19 men’s and two women’s — in a minimum of 25 hours across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3. Check out the full College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon schedule.

Nick Dawson

How do you find schools willing to play basketball at odd hours on a given day?

Nick Dawson, ESPN’s director of programming and acquisitions, leads the team of employees responsible for scheduling the games — including the live early morning telecasts at 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 a.m. Finding teams to play games during the one-day event is just part of his overall responsibility of overseeing ESPN’s men’s college basketball programming strategy — one that includes more than 1,450 games this year.

Dawson also played a key role in the creation of the Marathon’s signature prime time event, the inaugural State Farm Champions Classic doubleheader from Madison Square Garden.

It features No. 6 Duke versus Michigan State at 7 p.m. and No. 2 Kentucky versus No. 6 Kansas at 9 p.m. on ESPN. Dawson took some time to answer a few questions about the Marathon and State Farm Champions Classic below.

FR: Scheduling games over a 24-hour period is no easy task. Where do you usually start?

Dawson: Every game is important but we typically begin by attempting to secure the anchor games on each end of the Marathon given the available audience at those times of the day. That being said, the most fun is working with the schools to try to secure the morning and early afternoon games. The schools that have participated in those games have really embraced the concept and have treated it as a unique opportunity to do something special with their fans. It’s been extremely rewarding to see schools embrace the event in a fun and competitive manner each year.

FR: Is it easier to schedule games, particularly at the non-traditional times, as the event grows in popularity?

Dawson: Definitely. Each year we have more and more schools reaching out to us wanting to be a part of the Marathon. Schools want to be a part of it and are excited when they have the opportunity to participate. It speaks to the exposure the programs receive as well as the unique and fun nature the event has brought to the start of the season and our networks.

FR: Any particular time slot that is always the last to get a game?

Dawson: The last slots we generally schedule each year are the 2 a.m. game, largely due to it having to be from a Pacific time zone site, and early afternoon. We’ve been very fortunate to have schools embrace the early morning windows.

FR: What is the most difficult aspect of the Marathon?

Dawson: The most difficult part of the marathon each year is the challenge our production team has to overcome. It’s not every day you are faced with having to secure production trucks, personnel, announcers and more to produce more than 20 live games in a span of 24 hours. And all of this while the company is heavily involved with producing content across multiple other sports. Those guys are phenomenal, never blinking when we come to them each year with more games. For example, Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham will call two games from two sites, working the 2 a.m. game from St. Mary’s and the Cal telecast from Berkeley at 10 p.m.

FR: You have two anchor games for the next three years with the State Farm Champions Classic. How excited are you about those?

Dawson: It’s so rare for fans to have the chance to see four of the nation’s premier programs square off at one neutral site early in the season. The uniqueness of the event, shifting from New York City the inaugural year to Atlanta in 2012 and Chicago in 2013, makes the Champions Classic an excellent culmination of ESPN’s Marathon schedule for the next three years, and hopefully, beyond. To quote Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo from when the event was announced for the first time, “It’s like having a Final Four in November.”

FR: How did the idea for the Champions Classic come about?

Dawson: I was looking for something distinctive and special we could create to anchor the end of the Tip-Off Marathon as a further celebration to the start of the season. The Champions idea was a twist to something that had been discussed a few years ago by some of the schools involved that would’ve been called the first four. The wrinkle that makes the Champions Classic different, beyond getting these four schools, is taking it to a different neutral site each year. Launching it in New York at Madison Square Garden followed by the Georgia Dome in 2012 [site of that year’s Final Four] and Chicago in 2013, the event will touch three of the great basketball cities in the country.

FR: Will you stay up for the entire 24-hour stretch? Where will you be for the day?

Dawson: Last year, I joined college basketball reporter Dana O’Neil on her quest to attend three of the games in person. We started in Memphis at midnight (Miami at Memphis), drove to Carbondale, Ill. for a 10 a.m. matchup (Northeastern at Southern Illinois) and then drove to Louisville for an 8 p.m. game to finish the day (Butler at Louisville). That nearly killed me, so this year, I’ll be anchored in New York for the entire day, taking in the games on TV and then ending my night at Madison Square Garden for the Champions Classic doubleheader. As a basketball junkie, I wish I could stay up the entire 24 hours but I’m sure I’ll cave and grab a few hours of sleep at some point during the night.

FR: What is your dream game to see on the Marathon?

Dawson: The schools being excited to be a part of this event is a dream come true. It’s one of the most entertaining and different events we do at ESPN each year and I’m glad schools enjoy being in it.

FR: What games are you most excited about on this year’s schedule?

Dawson: There’s no way I can pick just one. From a TV perspective, I hope they all go down to the wire!

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