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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 19 2013

"GameDay" experience memorable for non-FBS schools

Fargo - Franklin Field in Philadelphia has been home to historic moments over the years, such as FDR's presidential acceptance speech in 1936. There were NFL title games and even a track meet featuring Olympic greats.

It remains the football home of the University of Pennsylvania. Open a Quakers football media guide, and it touts Penn’s status as one of the country’s most historic programs. Franklin, after all, is the nation’s oldest stadium, built in 1895.

Oh, and a couple of pages later, there’s a picture of Lee Corso dressed as Ben Franklin.

That was in 2002 when ESPN’s “College GameDay” went off the grid and did its show from the Harvard at Penn game. It was for the Ivy League title.

“I have to tell you, the students were more excited for ‘GameDay’ that day than they were for the game,” said Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky. “They painted their faces and acted like little kids. It was a very un-Ivy atmosphere.”

Penn was the first FCS school “GameDay” visited. On Saturday, North Dakota State will be the fifth non-FBS school to host the show since its inception in 1987.

In 2007, the show went to Williamstown, Mass., and delved into the flavor of Williams College and its homecoming game with rival Amherst. The little private Division III school got treated like a BCS national champion.

“ESPN made it like it was the biggest game that was ever played,” said Dick Quinn, associate director of communications at Williams. “It was an impressive operation. We’ve gotten so much out of it.”

Like NDSU last weekend, Quinn said the notice that “GameDay” was coming to Williams came from nowhere. He was at a women’s soccer game on a Sunday when somebody from ESPN called and said they were thinking of taking the show there for the Williams-Amherst game.

“They picked us over Georgia and Auburn, and the internet went crazy,” Quinn said. “Who are these people?”

It didn’t take the network long to find the flavor of Williams. One of the school’s traditions is “The Walk,” which Sports Illustrated once dubbed as the best postgame tradition in America. If the Ephs win on homecoming, they walk from the stadium back to campus.

It started in 1971 when the bus that normally transported the players stalled. In 1987, a mandatory stop at St. Pierre’s Barber Shop was added, and when “GameDay” was there, host Chris Fowler visited the barber shop when the players arrived.

Quinn said the show brought a “definite uptick” in awareness of Williams College. Penn’s Bilsky said it was hard to measure the benefits of “GameDay” but there were plenty of emails, phone calls and letters.

“The biggest part was more anecdotal in how the younger people watched it,” he said. “They may have looked at the school as stuffy and elitist, and they saw kids with their faces painted. Everything aligned. It was a beautiful day, and it was a big game.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia