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An Inside Look at ESPN College GameDay, FCS Style

Oct 23, 2015, 9:36 AM EDT

Since all the news in CAA Football this week – deservedly so – has been centered around ESPN’s “College GameDay” coming to Harrisonburg for JMU versus Richmond, I reached out to fellow FCS football fanatic and Fargo, N.D., journalist Dom Izzo, the Sports Director for WDAY-TV. Dom, for those of you who don’t know, is a common source for all things NDSU and FCS football in general, especially through his Twitter account, @DomIzzoWDAY, so be sure to give him a follow. Mr. Izzo also has had the unique experience of both covering and attending the Bison’s two GameDay shows which were broadcast in Fargo each of the last two seasons.

Below is an interview transcript between myself and Dom:


TM: Trying to give JMU and Richmond fans some perspective into what’s coming on Saturday for College GameDay. As the hype has grown leading up, it seems plenty of fans and alums will be there in full force. What was that week like, not only for you, but for the Bison fans, players, coaches, etc., the first time Corso and the crew visited Fargo?

DI: The first time GameDay came to Fargo was crazy. I had heard a crazy rumor the night before that GameDay would announce they would come to Fargo and NDSU was actually on a bye week, so it was a rare chance to watch GameDay. About a half hour in, the announcement came and then everything changed. The week leading up to the show was crazy, I tried to line up as many interviews with ESPN as possible, starting with executive producer Lee Fitting on my radio show, explaining why Fargo was the selection, leading up to the show on Saturday. We had some insider access to the ESPN personalities and then got to see the production truck that puts the show together. The city of Fargo was on hold until Thursday when they arrived and then transformed downtown for the show in about 12 hours. As for the team, I honestly believe they were insulated from everything until Friday. That’s when they came downtown and were able to take photos on the set, but for a majority of the week it was still business as usual for NDSU.

TM: What are some of the most overlooked or unnoticed aspects about GameDay “invading” the town and school for nearly the entire week leading up to the show?

DI: Just how huge the production is. This is similar to setting up for the Super Bowl and these guys do it every week and do it well. The precision the production staff has in putting together the set to getting the show ready was amazing to me, both times over. The other thing was how prepared the on-air team is getting to know the subject. They were ready to make sure the TV audience know who North Dakota State was.

TM: As a journalist who lives in the Fargo area, what were some of the noticeable impacts of GameDay coming to NDSU? Outside of the obvious recruiting and branding help, how else did you believe it helped the Bison program in general?

DI: To me, the most obvious help was how much it put North Dakota State on the map. I’m from upstate New York and after GameDay first came in 2013, the most frequent text I got was, “I can’t believe how big Fargo is!” or “Wow, the football team you cover is really good.” ESPN’s production put both Fargo and NDSU in the national TV spotlight in a way that it never has before. When anyone brought Fargo up before it was for the Coen brothers movie or for the weather. Now it was because of a dominant football team and showed off a part of the city that said to people, “I’d like to visit there.”

TM: Are there any numbers that showed it had an immediate effect on the town of Fargo itself?

DI: No numbers come immediate to mind, but the businesses downtown usually did double to triple the amount of business they usually do and more certainly got involved the second time GameDay came. I also know Fargo was one of the higher rated shows GameDay had all year.

TM: The Bison certainly have earned their stellar reputation over the years and have truly been the cream of the crop, so to say, of the FCS. When GameDay decided to come to Fargo, did you recognize any added focus or motivation from the team itself? Kind of like it wanted to prove its worth both as a football program and fan base to ESPN?

DI: I didn’t notice any added determination, but certainly for the teams in ’13 and ’14, I think there was some deep down validation of “yeah we’re a top notch program, it doesn’t matter if we’re FCS, we’re doing things here that a lot of FBS teams wish they could do.”

TM: If you could give any fan attending GameDay advice regarding the best sign to display what would that be?

DI: To me, the best signs when GameDay has been here have been the unique ones to the city and hosts, so for any advice I’d say mention anything about the fourth President would be great and if you can relate that to football, even better, the ESPN cameras will find them!

TM: I had to sneak in this question. Having seen CAA Football a couple of times over the last few years, what are your expectations for the league this season as well as the general impressions of both JMU and Richmond so far? Any chance we see a NDSU or MVFC-CAA Football showdown again in Frisco?

DI: The CAA for a long time was the premier conference in the FCS until the Missouri Valley’s recent run. James Madison and Richmond have certainly proven so far to be the top level teams in the CAA, JMU’s team looks like a squad that can make a deep run and be the first CAA team to reach Frisco since Towson. I think for NDSU fans, they’d love to see another matchup with the CAA. the Towson-NDSU game was one of the toughest the Bison have had during their run of four straight titles.