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College GameDay’ returns to Notre Dame

Allan Joseph | Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Almost exactly seven years ago to the day, ESPN’s popular pregame show “College GameDay” visited campus to broadcast live before Notre Dame hosted USC in the infamous “Bush Push” game. Today, after the fortunes of the Irish football program have fallen and risen again, the first of the approximately 50 cast and crew of “GameDay” begin arriving on campus from all over the country to prepare for Saturday’s national broadcast.

“It’s great. It’s been way, way, way too long since we’ve been there,” ESPN analyst and announcer Kirk Herbstreit said. “It’s nice to see that they have a high-profile game at home to allow us to come in there and just add to the atmosphere hopefully there in South Bend on Saturday,”

Tom Engle, producer of “GameDay,” said he and his crew were excited to return to South Bend.

“The tradition that Notre Dame has, not only with football but as a University, it’s a special place. Any time we get the opportunity to come back there is great,” Engle said in a phone interview with The Observer. “It’s too bad it’s been as long as it’s been since we’ve been there, but I think it’s a good sign for Notre Dame that we’re coming back. That means obviously they’re doing something well on the field.”

Engle said ESPN makes its decision about where to host “GameDay” each week based solely on its opinion of what the biggest game of the week is. While ABC and ESPN (who are both owned by Disney) broadcast many games each week and NBC has exclusive rights to all Notre Dame home games, Engle said that did not matter.

“It doesn’t really bother us what network it’s on,” he said. “We’re going to go where we think in our estimation the best game is every week regardless of what network it’s on or anything like that.”

John Heisler, senior associate athletic director, said the University welcomed “GameDay” to campus and was excited about the opportunity to host the show.

“I think it’s a great compliment to everybody,” Heisler said. “There’s not a football program in the country that wouldn’t like to have ‘GameDay’ come on any given weekend.”

Engle said while the Saturday morning broadcast is the centerpiece of the show’s visit, “GameDay” will start to have a visible campus presence as early as Thursday.

“There will be a lot of action around there on Thursday setting up the set and our ‘College GameDay’ footprint … which seems like it’s getting bigger and bigger each year,” he said. “We have obviously our set, and then flanking our set is two Jumbotrons for all the crowd to be able to watch and hear the show as it goes on. So it’ll be quite a presence once we get everything set up Thursday afternoon.”

Although “GameDay” visited Notre Dame’s contest at Michigan last year, Engle said those fans who last saw the show live in 2005 will notice differences.

“It’s a whole new demographic of students we’re reaching out to … our footprint’s gotten much bigger since then,” he said. “We do our best to keep the fans that do show up involved by playing music, by playing the show on the two Jumbotrons … and just interaction with the fans out there.”

Notre Dame hosted the first-ever campus broadcast of “College GameDay” in 1993 before the then-No. 2 Irish defeated then-No. 1 Florida State. Heisler said the show has become much bigger than what it used to be.

“We look back on when it first came here back in 1993, it was nowhere near the stature of what it is now,” he said. “In fact, they were up here indoors in the concourse of the Joyce Center, there were certainly some people that came and watched it, [but] there was nowhere near the interest in having a huge audience that there is now.”

Engle said there might be surprises for fans in attendance, but he was sure fans would enjoy the experience.

“We have some things in the works,” he said. “Nothing that I can really tell you now, because I’m not sure yet … But I think they’ll enjoy it, I’ll say that. The people that show up will have a couple wrinkles that will make it worth their while for coming.”

Engle said Notre Dame’s Thanksgiving weekend contest at USC could also see the show visit, especially if both teams continue to win.

“There’s obviously a ton of games that need to be played by a lot of teams before then,” he said. “But it’s a definite possibility.”

ESPN will begin broadcasting parts of various shows at 9 a.m. Friday and broadcast “College Football Live” from its on-campus set Friday afternoon. The set will be located on Library Quad.

“On Friday, we start doing T.V. at 9 a.m.,” he said. “There will be guys and girls out there on and off all day … Until about 4 p.m. there will be some sort of action on the set. People are more than welcome to hang out on Friday if they want to.”

The “GameDay” festivities will start early Saturday morning, as filming will begin at 8 a.m. The show will go live at 9 a.m. on ESPNU and then will be live on ESPN from 10 a.m. to noon. In a now-famous “GameDay” tradition, ESPN analyst Lee Corso will predict the winner of the Notre Dame-Stanford contest shortly before the show’s end by donning a mascot uniform of the team he picks to win.

“Who knows what he’s going to do?” Engle said. “It’ll be a spectacle about 11:55 when he makes his pick. I don’t know where he’s going yet, but we’ll see.”

Engle encouraged students to show up early to the set, especially if they wanted to see themselves on national television.

“If you get there early, obviously you’ll get up close and get a chance to be on TV. We’ve had people camp out before,” he said. “We’ve seen all kinds of things over the years. It’s kind of first-come first serve as far as your chance to get in the front row and possibly see yourself on ‘GameDay. … the earlier that you come, the better.”

Herbstreit said he was excited to broadcast from campus, especially after he learned students would be finishing midterms this week.

“Oh my gosh,” he said. “They [the students] will be out of their minds. That’ll be fun.”

“College GameDay” will begin broadcasting live at 9 a.m. on ESPNU and continue its broadcast from 10 a.m. to noon on ESPN. The set will be on Library Quad.

Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu