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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 14 2013

NDSU hits "jackpot," hosts ESPN's GameDay next Saturday

FARGO – It’s been a sleepless week for the marketing folks in the North Dakota State University athletic department. It got even crazier Saturday morning when ESPN confirmed it is bringing its popular “College GameDay” pregame show to Fargo next Saturday.

Yes, instead of Michigan, Alabama or USC, Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Desmond Howard will be broadcasting from somewhere on the NDSU campus, most likely near the Fargodome, before the Bison host Delaware State at 2:30 p.m. The show airs from 9-11 a.m.

“It’s huge, probably the biggest thing that ever happened to Fargo and North Dakota State in terms of athletics,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor. “We’ve had championships and those things, but in terms of recognition … the exposure will be phenomenal.”

Phenomenal in terms of viewers. ESPN, in a company release, said its college football coverage last Saturday averaged 5.6 million viewers per hour over 15 hours of coverage.

Taylor said a pre-production crew from ESPN will fly to Fargo today to look at logistics of where to construct the set. Background priorities include campus buildings or the stadium. Taylor said the tailgating parking lots, which normally open five hours before kickoff, may be opened earlier to accommodate the show.

“You kind of think in a fantasy it would be cool if ‘GameDay’ ever came, but you never truly believe that they would,” Taylor said. “It’s such a stretch, but a lot of things lined up for us, being there’s not a lot of big matchups next Saturday.”

The first three “College GameDay” shows this year aired from Clemson, Michigan and Texas A&M, where the No. 6 Aggies lost to No. 1 Alabama on Saturday.

“GameDay” has shown up on three non-FBS campuses in the past: FCS Florida A&M in 2008 and Penn in 2002, and Division III Williams in 2007. Hints that the show was going to do something different first surfaced on Thursday when Fowler put out the following message on his Twitter account: “Next Saturday @CollegeGameDay is headed off the grid. Not a traditional hotspot.”

In reality, ESPN first contacted NDSU senior associate athletic director Troy Goergen on Monday with licensing questions in regards to the show. Goergen said he was told NDSU was one of four football programs in the running for the show’s site next Saturday.

North Dakota Senator John Hoeven and Governor Jack Dalrymple both sent letters to ESPN promoting NDSU as a site for the “GameDay” program.

NDSU officials continued to meet during the week just in case the school was picked, said Justin Swanson, NDSU’s director of marketing and promotions.

“Sleepless nights,” Swanson said. “It’s incredible. This show has been around for 21 years and seldom does it get to a campus like ours. To think where we were 10 years ago beating Montana, and now we’re hosting the biggest show in college football.”

NDSU, as a Division II school in 2003, upset FCS Montana, which at the time was considered its signature win to kick off the Division I era. The program completed its Division I reclassification in 2007 and the growth escalated to back-to-back FCS national titles in 2011 and 2012. The Bison (2-0) are ranked No. 1 in the FCS coaches and media polls.

The Bison opened this season with a 24-21 win at Kansas State in a nationally televised game on FOX Sports 1. The ESPN show is another level up from that.

“You can’t put a price tag on it,” Swanson said. “No school can put a price tag on it.”

NDSU is not sure when the personalities will come to Fargo, although in the past the crew routinely does cut-in shots starting on Thursdays. The Home Depot set will arrive on Wednesday.

“As the week went on, it got more real,” Goergen said. “To think that ESPN would actually broadcast their show here was never in our minds. … I think it’s a jackpot for the university and the entire state.”

And for the Missouri Valley Football Conference. League commissioner Patty Viverito calls the ‘GameDay’ show “must-see TV.”

“The Bison earned this time in the spotlight,” she said. “The team is the two-time defending national champion and the Bison fans are passionate and outrageously fun. Anyone who was in Frisco, Texas, for the championship game the past two years knows Bison fans are amazing and now, thanks to ESPN and ‘GameDay,’ the entire college football world will know.”



Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia