5 Creative Ways to Spice Up ESPN's College GameDay
ESPN's College GameDay is the signature show of its kind. Nothing else compares to the comprehensiveness, allure, flair and buzz of this 26-year-old staple of college football preview content.
But that doesn't mean the old broad couldn't use a little makeover.
GameDay's last major update came in 1993 when it snuck out of the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn., and temporary set up shop on the campus of Notre Dame, the site for a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchup between the Fighting Irish and Florida State.
That outward venture was a rousing success, and now pretty much every week of the college season involves Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Lee Corso turning a piece of a college campus into a madhouse of signs, cheers, chants and big-game anticipation.
The formula, though has become just that: formulaic. It's pretty much the same each week, and even though that works, it can always get better.
To that end, here's our suggestions for some creative ways to spice up College GameDay.
Mix Up the Locales
Fish around long enough on ESPN's archive of College GameDay content and you'll be able to see a pretty significant theme to the locations chosen for the show: The old standards still rule the roost.
This year alone, the show has gone to Ann Arbor, Mich.; College Station, Texas and Athens Ga.—places that have been regular stops over the last 20 years. Expect late-season trips to Baton Rouge, La.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Norman, Okla. and Ann Arbor.
While the show has visited 54 different FBS campuses in the past 20 years, there are currently 126 such sites, not to mention all of the FCS or Division II/III/NAIA locales that would go bonkers to have ESPN and its band of CFB talking heads spend a Saturday morning there.
GameDay has left the FBS ranks four times, most recently last month when it made the bold choice to go to Fargo, N.D., to give love to a North Dakota State program that's won the last two FCS championships. The game that day against lowly Delaware State was an afterthought. It was more about the school, the program and the community than the game itself.
The show needs to do this more often. Yes, there are plenty of great stories to be told on the campuses of the top teams in the country, but really, how many times can you go to Baton Rouge or Tuscaloosa or Columbus, Ohio, or Tallahassee? The answer is nine, seven, 13 and eight, respectively.
Why has GameDay never gone to Berkeley, Calif., or Pullman, Wash.? Why no visits to Laramie, Wyo., or Huntington, W.Va.?
Saturday's trip to Seattle is the program's first-ever visit to the state of Washington, which is great. But why did it take Oregon coming into town to prompt it?
There doesn't have to be a big-time, this-will-make-or-break-the-national-championship-landscape game to warrant this traveling circus coming into town. It could be an up-and-coming program playing host to an established power or just a great rivalry game between two middling teams.
Bottom line: It's time to mix it up. Maybe pick the sites before the season, like ESPN does with some of its college basketball GameDay visits.
Embrace the Signage
The legend of the background sign proliferation over the years is well documented—the video above was made by ESPN, after all—but while Chris Fowler and the on-set gang make general statements about "how great" the signs look and other reporters will do stand-ups in a way that just begs for catchy sign placement, it's really more a case of other media outlets noting the signs than ESPN.
The signs are one of the things that makes GameDay different than any other sports pregame show, and this should be embraced. In spades.
Which means we need to see more of this, per Bleacher Report:
Tom Rinaldi in jorts on ESPN's College GameDay.
But this can't just be a one-off or semi-frequent hat tip to the sign-makers and sign-holders.
While the setup of the show encourages creative signs, the ante could be upped by having Fowler and his cohorts pick their favorites each week or try to guess what some of the more cryptic ones mean. It's what the rest of us are doing when we watch the show.
Why can't Lee Corso be asked why Ohio State's Braxton Miller has a two-page resume, as one Northwestern fan's sign noted last Saturday.
Incorporate Student Reporters
Every college football team in the country has at least one intrepid young cub reporter covering it for the school's student newspaper. Those kids probably have some great stories and observations of the team beyond what you'd find from the newspaper beat writers.
Think about it: Who's more likely to know what kind of Ramen noodles the star running back at a school likes to get out of the vending machine? That's right, the guy more likely to run into said star at the student union?
The added color and insight of the perspectives of students who have the combination of actually attending the school, as well as having regular access to the team, could continue GameDay's evolution from a straight Xs-and-Os preview show into an all-encompassing, all-access program.
Platoon Desmond Howard
Desmond Howard's addition to the show's big desk in 2005 made GameDay a quartet in terms of fixed hosts, a lineup that's remained unchanged now for eight years.
Some new blood needs to get regular time behind the "Desk That Home Depot Built," and not just added bodies like David Pollack and his foot-in-mouth statement regarding women on the upcoming college football playoff selection committee.
Rather than bring in more and more people, thus turning into one of those bloated, overflowing NFL pre-game shows, why not rotate in some different faces and perspectives?
Howard is the weakest link not named Lee Corso, but since it seems Corso is permanently glued to his seat, that means Howard is the best choice to get some weeks off to bring in a fresh face.
It's not like ESPN has a dearth of "personalities" to choose from for such a desk platoon. The show could bring in people who are relevant to the location (having Tedy Bruschi sit in if GameDay is at Arizona, for instance) or a recently retired coach who knows a lot about the teams involved in the locale's game.
Spread Around the Headgear
Maybe it's in Lee Corso's contract that he has to stuff his head into a mascot noggin, or that he's the only one allowed to do so each week. Maybe Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler are afraid of what such an act might do to their perfectly coifed hair.
Whatever the case may be, Corso and his shtick of making his pick of the GameDay site's game by putting on his winner's mascot head is college football's version of peanut butter and jelly.
But this isn't an untouchable, unchangeable tradition, people. We're not saying it's OK to wear white after Labor Day. We're talking about putting on the top piece of a ridiculous costume.
It's hard to see what Corso would really bring to GameDay without this end-of-the-show antic, but it might just be time to mix things up and let other hosts get in on the action. It could be in a rotation or could be random and unannounced each week, adding more anticipation to that final prediction to see who's going to pull some sort of headgear out from under the desk.
It's an absurd, yet endearing, segment that is as much a part of the show as anything else. But that doesn't mean it has to remain exactly the same for all eternity. Time to pass that elephant or duck head to someone else, Lee.