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Where Have You Gone ESPN GameDay?

By on September 21st, 2006 in Football Comments Off

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio ESPN GameDay? Things have not been going well at the World Wide Leader lately. At least not when it comes to college football. From a change in scheduling philosophy to a change in announcers, ESPN has really fumbled this year.

First came the announcement (sort of) by ESPN that it was reevaluating how it chose where to send its College GameDay crew on Saturday mornings. That’s code word for we’re tired of promoting CBS and NBC games and now we’re concentrating on ABC – excuse me, I mean, ESPN on ABC.

As a result, “Separation Saturday” as they deemed this past weekend, found Chris, Lee and Kirk in Southern California instead of Auburn, Knoxville or South Bend. Never-mind, that USC was playing an under matched, over-hyped Nebraska team.

It’s obvious from recent comments made by GameDay host Chris Fowler that the key on-air players are not happy with this new network philosophy. Fowler offers up these thoughts…

Of the 10 regular-season SEC games matching top 10 teams, we’ve had the privilege of watching seven from ringside, reveling in the drama. The Tennessee-Florida wars of 2000-02; Auburn’s pounding of the Vols, with big Tiger-lover Sir Charles standing next to us on the sidelines at Neyland Stadium; and LSU’s heart-stopping OT triumph at Tuscaloosa last year … those are memories that will last. 

This is why I believe an explanation is needed for why GameDay won’t be in Auburn for LSU’s visit this Saturday.

For 13 seasons, the locations of the GameDay road shows have been editorial decisions based on the college football landscape. The basic principle was to (almost) always come from the site of the “biggest game,” or occasionally, “the best story.” Several times, we have visited the edge of the radar screen to pay tribute to the Mid American Conference’s rise (at Bowling Green), the service academies (Air Force and West Point) or the tradition of the Bayou Classic.

Now, the philosophy has been rethought by upper management. For the first time, the competitive landscape of football programming is a frequent consideration. Serving the needs of ABC’s new prime-time package of games is often a priority. The decision on GameDay’s site is less a clear-cut “best game” philosophy now and is more complicated, made on a landscape where terms like “synergy” and “branding” live.

Please know this: Lee, Kirk and I have no say in decisions on GameDay’s location. But as host of the show for 17 years, I am mainly concerned with the show’s specific legacy, not the global college football landscape.

The first two weeks of the season were no-brainers. It made sense to follow Notre Dame to Georgia Tech and sit ringside for the first 1-vs.-2 regular-season game in 10 years last week in Austin. This week, the decision was made to come from the Los Angeles Coliseum, where ABC will be set up. Executive vice president Norby Williamson asked me to relay his reasoning: Nebraska and USC, both visible programs with storied pasts, are colliding for the first time in 35 years, and this might be one of the few chances to showcase a Pac-10 location, keeping the show regionally balanced. The SEC should feature a lot more big ones in the coming months.

This is important: Williamson said fans still can expect to see GameDay return to the SEC or to Notre Dame for games televised on CBS and NBC. That’s a relief to me. LSU’s visits to Florida and Tennessee loom large, as does Auburn’s trip to the Swamp. Georgia versus the winner of the Vols-Gators clash will be huge.

As you can see, Fowler clearly leaves the door open for GameDay to return to the SEC (he mistakenly says that Auburn goes to the Swamp). With Kirk Herbstreit doing color analysis for the Saturday night ABC game, you can bet that wherever GameDay goes, he’ll be within a couple hours flight from that night’s game.

Let’s hope that this new programming philosophy doesn’t last long. You may love ESPN or hate it, but you have to admit that College GameDay on your campus is a big happening. For that weekend, you are the center of the college football world.

Another beef I have with the network is the demotion of play-by-play man, Ron Franklin. For my money he’s the best in all of football. And being an SEC guy (he graduated from Ole Miss), it just made sense for him to do the Saturday night broadcasts because 90 percent of the match ups were from the SEC.

For some reason, ESPN has booted Franklin over to ESPN2 and now has him doing the early evening game. This past week’s assignment: Texas-Rice. Franklin deserves better than that. And what happened to his sidekick, Mike Gottfried? Has he been let go, moved to ESPNU?

Call me old school, but I like the old, non-corporate ESPN.

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