Northwestern prepares for ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’


Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Crew set up the stage Thursday for ESPN’s “College GameDay,” which will broadcast from the north section of the Lakefill at 8 a.m. Saturday. University officials have spent the week preparing for the show and other Homecoming weekend events.

Ally Mutnick, Development Editor

With “College GameDay” returning to Northwestern for the first time in nearly 20 years, University officials are working to increase security and coordinate planning to help campus celebrate the Homecoming weekend events.

ESPN’s “GameDay” will broadcast from 8-11 a.m. from the northern section of the Lakefill near Lakeside Field, where crews set up the stage Thursday.

The show, which chose NU as its site Sept. 28, is one of two special broadcasts on campus this weekend focusing on Saturday’s matchup of the Wildcats and the Ohio State Buckeyes, who are both undefeated. Weekend events also include the Homecoming parade and pep rally and NU’s reunion weekend.

“I think a lot of people had this weekend circled on their calendar even before the season started,” said Paul Kennedy, spokesman for NU’s athletic department. “It’s the perfect storm of attention.”

Related NU departments, ranging from Facilities Management to Student Affairs, have had joint meetings all week to prepare. They discussed topics including reserving parking, reviewing emergency procedures and prepping tents, lighting and electricity for the weekend.

About the first 600 students to arrive for “GameDay” can stand in the fenced-in area, called the “pit,” behind the stage, in direct line of the broadcast. Kennedy said students are encouraged to arrive by 5 a.m. and the pit will open between 5 and 6 a.m. The athletic department is discouraging students from camping out, and ESPN security may not allow it, Kennedy said.

Staff in University Relations and the athletic department have been in contact with ESPN. Both are trying to give NU students first access to the limited spots behind the “GameDay” stage, Kennedy said. Breakfast and T-shirts will be available by Lakeside Field.

The ESPN staff is well-trained in handling crowds and will be able to choose 600 fans to enter the pit, said Ryan Chenault, associate director of marketing for the athletic department. As some students leave the area, others will be able to enter, he said.

To celebrate Homecoming game day, the athletic department released a short video featuring coach Pat Fitzgerald and members of the football team. Chenault says it has gone viral, appearing on national college football blogs and local television stations.

“It’s very safe to say the eyes of the college football world are going to be here in Evanston this weekend,” he said.

University Police is also providing security to work alongside ESPN’s team at “GameDay.” UP will increase its presence with additional officers on campus, at and around Ryan Field and in off-campus neighborhoods, Deputy Chief Daniel McAleer said.

McAleer said he is not sure what to expect from the “GameDay” broadcast. The show was last held on campus in 1995 in Welsh-Ryan Arena. UP has consulted other “GameDay” host schools during planning efforts.

The increased police presence comes with a decreased tolerance, McAleer said. UP will be on the lookout for crime, public urination and public drunkenness during the football game and “GameDay” broadcast.

“You can’t expect that everyone at the ESPN GameDay event will be rooting for Northwestern,” McAleer said. “There might be some Ohio State fans that want to debate football prowess. Sometimes those debates turn physical.”

For student fans, Norris University Center is holding “GameDay” preparation events. ARTica Studios will extend its hours to give students a chance to make signs to bring to the broadcast. It will also offer free face painting on Saturday from 12 to 3 p.m., according to the Norris website.

Coke Zero held a combine on Norris’ East Lawn on Thursday and will repeat the event Friday, giving students a chance to win seats in Section Zero, elevated bleachers near the “GameDay” stage that get some television time. Students have to complete an obstacle course under a certain time limit to win seats in the section.

McCormick junior Phil House competed with his friend to win Section Zero seats but could not finish the course in time. House said he plans on coming back in more athletic clothes, and maybe cleats.

“It’s Northwestern’s biggest game in 18 years,” he said. “You get a chance to be on TV and a chance to be proud of Northwestern on national TV.”

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Twitter: @allymutnick