Behind The ScenesNCAAB

Split-site College GameDay Saturday presents challenges for eager crew

ESPN’s College GameDay crew (L-R) Jalen Rose, Rece Davis, Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps.
(Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

College GameDay covered by State Farm will attempt its first split-site show for its last stop(s) of the regular-season this Saturday when it rolls into Washington D.C. for Syracuse versus Georgetown (noon, ET on ESPN) and then on to Chapel Hill, N.C., for the Saturday Primetime game of Duke versus North Carolina (9 p.m. on ESPN).

Host Rece Davis and analysts Jay Bilas, Jalen Rose and Digger Phelps will be on hand for the dual-location, dual-conference action and will head to Chapel Hill from D.C. after Bilas finishes calling the Orange-Hoyas game with Sean McDonough and Bill Raftery.

GameDay’s 8 p.m. edition will be live from the Dean Dome with the game following immediately after with Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale, Bilas and Samantha Ponder on the call.

Setting up equipment at two sites and transporting the crew between venues in a matter of hours will be plenty challenging for this live three-hour, morning/evening program. Producer Brett Austin and operations lead Luther Fisher shared some insights with Front Row into how it will all go down Saturday.

Knowing how much is involved with set up at a different site each week, why did you think setting up at two sites would be a good idea?
B.A.: The idea originated from our programming department seeing the schedule had two of the greatest rivalries in all of sports slated for the same day. We were asked if we could pull off shows from two sites in the same day and we jumped on it. GameDay wants to be attached to the biggest games and best venues and this is certainly an opportunity to do something special for our viewers.

What kind of preparation did this endeavor entail?
B.A.: Pulling off two shows takes a high degree of planning and collaboration across several departments. Planning for this weekend began months ago and we will be tweaking and making adjustments all the way up until show time. Our goal is to make this special and memorable. So looking past the logistical hurdles, we focused on how to put on the best possible TV. It is a testament to all the people on and off air who work extremely hard to deliver a great product week in and week out.

L.F.: Normally, we produce the show with the same truck that does the Saturday Primetime game. This week, since the morning GameDay is followed immediately by the Georgetown game and is not on site with Primetime, we have our own truck for GameDay. This will make it easier for all involved because there is no way the two production teams could change positions during the commercial break.

We’ll have a handful of operations crew in Chapel Hill setting up the production office and the “flex desk” there so when the on-air team arrives, they’ll be ready to go. When the morning show is over in D.C., we have to get it out of there right away. There is a pro game in the arena that night. We’ll be tearing down the set and stage while the Georgetown game is going on.

What about the GameDay bus? Which campus gets it this weekend?
L.F.: The bus will be in D.C. for a little bit and late Friday it will head down to Chapel Hill to be parked outside of the Dean Dome.

What are your takeaways from the 2013 season of the show?
B.A.: What a slate of great games/venues this season. We kicked off at Hinkle Fieldhouse [at Butler University] and are ending the road shows at the Dean Dome, with many other great sites in between. Crowds were great and we really feed off of that energy. A special thanks to all of those who got up early to attend our shows and all those who watched from home. We tackled tough issues when they needed to be addressed and we weren’t afraid to try something different. Seeing Rece, Jay, Jalen and Digger in those [Indiana] Hoosiers uniforms in Week 1 was a lot of fun. The guys are always comfortable taking risks and don’t take themselves too seriously, which is great.

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