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In Sports

Marquette fans line up outside to prepare for "GameDay." (PHOTO: Maggie Casey, Special to OMC)

In Sports

The set is ready and it's almost showtime. (PHOTO: Maggie Casey, Special to OMC)

In Sports

When the lights go on, the MU fans go crazy. (PHOTO: Maggie Casey, Special to OMC)

A day in the life of "College GameDay"


For the first time in the show's history, ESPN sent its "College GameDay" program to the state of Wisconsin Saturday in advance of Marquette's Big East showdown against Pittsburgh. Most people tuning into the show see the finished product and have little idea just how long of a process getting the show on the air is.

OnMilwaukee.com got permission to spend a day behind the scenes with the GameDay crew and documented the day from start to finish. Live television may have been the inspiration behind the phrase "hurry up and wait". For fans, crew, talent, and staffers, GameDay isn't just a show; it's a multifaceted event that takes an awful lot of effort, planning, and adjustments. Here's an inside look at just what it's like spending nearly 24 hours at the Bradley Center.

* * *

It's a little before 4 a.m. Saturday morning, and I am relaxing in bed in my downtown apartment, which happens to be just a couple hundred yards from the Bradley Center. Already, I can hear stirring outside. A look out the window verifies my suspicions; fans are already lined up to get into the Bradley Center.

Andy O'Connell is one such fan. Dressed in a stylish, pinstriped navy suit - complete with pants tucked into his blue-and-gold socks - and a brown derby, O'Connell has been camped out since a little before 7 p.m.

"We've been doing it all year," O'Connell said. "So, why not get up for this? College GameDay doesn't come very often, so we're here."

While O'Connell and friends waited outside in the March cold, a full crew was busy inside the Bradley Center, getting the building ready for the doors to open at 7:15 a.m.

Since the Admirals had a game on Friday night, stage setup -- which usually begins on Thursday night -- couldn't start until after the ice was covered following the game, and Marquette's court was put down. Making things more complicated, a post-game concert by REO Speedwagon took a little longer than expected to clean up, so crews couldn't really get going until 3 a.m.

A crew member explained that cables for cameras, power, and audio were strung through the building while the floor was set up. He said that most workers arrived around 3 a.m. and probably would finish up sometime after midnight Sunday.

The stage is, for the most part, set by about 7 a.m. Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis, and Digger Phelps are in a Bradley Center dressing room that has been transformed into a high-tech command center, complete with wireless internet and four televisions equipped with DirecTV. In this room, the talent and producers will go over the rundown for the 10 a.m. live broadcast, as well as plan for taped segments that will air throughout the day on the entire family of ESPN Networks, as well as ABC.

7:38 a.m. -- The mid-court seats of the Bradley Center are filling up fast. The Marquette students who have been lined up outside all night aren't too loud yet, but they're probably just trying to warm up.

"I think my mouth is frozen," explained one student trying a quick nap. "I'll be fine by 10."

To pass the time, the 1977 National Championship game between Marquette and North Carolina is shown on the big screen.

7:44 a.m. -- A group of guys in the front row start chanting "Erin Andrews," referring to ESPN's popular sideline reporter. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to let them know that Andrews is handling sideline duties for the Wisconsin-Michigan State game in Madison and won't be at the Bradley Center until later in the evening.

7:58 a.m. -- Marquette students like to dress for the occasion. There are a lot of people dressed up as the GameDay crew, none of whom seem to be able to fully replicate Phelps' ultra-bright neckties. One group of girls in the front row is dressed in nurse outfits with diapers.

"It's game day, baby," explained freshman Danielle DiVito. DiVito and her friends spent much of Friday coming up with the idea and putting it together.

"My mother would be so proud," DiVito said.

* * *

8:08 a.m. -- Barry Sacks, producer of GameDay is standing off to the side of the set, overlooking the growing - and vocal - crowd. Saks has been the show's producer since its inception three years ago and says the key to a good broadcast is fan enthusiasm.

"The crowd will dictate how the show goes," Sacks says. "They drive our talent."

"The bigger and louder the crowd, the more energy our talent will have. We're looking for the biggest and loudest crowd we can get every week, and so far ... this looks pretty good for 8:11 in the morning."

Sacks outlines the schedule for the day. Rece Davis will open the 9 a.m. SportsCenter with a quick, live hit from the set. They whole crew will do a live segment during the show and will take over the airwaves with the "GameDay" broadcast beginning at 10 a.m. Once that show is done, a number of segments are taped for the 11 a.m. games on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ABC while Andy Katz of ESPN.com will record a segment for ESPNews to wrap up the morning schedule by 11:30.

* * *

8:20 a.m. -- Sacks goes back to the workroom to meet with the talent and go over last-minute plans. Out in the bowl, the crowd has just erupted as Phelps, wearing a dark suit with a bright gold tie, emerges from the north tunnel and makes his way to the set.

Addressing the crowd, he is promptly but lightheartedly booed when he mentions he was once the coach of Notre Dame. Phelps tells them the same thing Sacks just explained; it's up to them to make the show a success. He picks a "captain" from the crowd to lead some cheers, and asks the band to play the school song.

Phelps talks about the special relationship that he had with former Marquette coach Al McGuire. It's a theme that will come up a lot this day, especially with the 1977 National Championship team to be in attendance.

He shares stories of bringing the Fighting Irish into the MECCA to face Al's Warriors during the high-water mark of the teams' rivalry. The crowd, he says, was crazy and intense. He expects the same things today.

"But keep it clean," Phelps warns. "This is a clean program going coast-to-coast."

* * *

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Talkbacks

sandstorm | March 5, 2007 at 4:58 p.m. (report)

"Danielle DiVito" I know it was a long day, andrew, and your article is excellent, but please don't tell me you believed the kid when she told you her name was "Danielle DiVito". lol.

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AndrewJ | March 5, 2007 at 3:12 p.m. (report)

Give this guy a raise!

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Hainer | March 5, 2007 at 7:55 a.m. (report)

Excellent piece!

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D | March 5, 2007 at 4:18 a.m. (report)

Fantastic article... summed up the day's events perfectly. I was in line at 12:30 AM on Saturday and watched the line wrap around the corner by 4. The Gameday atmosphere was incredible, for a smaller school like MU to bring that many people was impressive, and you could tell this meant something to the students there. How we were able to keep that energy level all the way through the game, I don't know, but it was a day I won't soon forget.

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Tim | March 4, 2007 at 2:10 p.m. (report)

Awesome, baby! With a capital A! This was great for Milwaukee and even better for the best University in the state: Marquette. Let's go Warriors. Really good behind-the-scenes look. College GameDay is huge and it's a feather in the cap of MU, Fr. Wild and Coach Crean to get it here. Bring on March Madness, baby! Good luck to MU and UW.

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