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Desmond Howard, David Pollack Reflect On Evolution Of College GameDay

Two of College GameDay’s analysts explain just how different the show is now from when it started in 1993.

Derek Futterman

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It was a college football weekend to remember as the 2021 season nears its completion with the playing of the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas and the Capital One Orange Bowl in Miami. Neither game was particularly close in terms of the final score, as defending national champion Alabama pummeled Cincinnati 27-6 in the Cotton Bowl, while Georgia similarly crushed Michigan 34-11 in the Orange Bowl, making for an intriguing rematch (the two teams met in the 2018 Championship Game) to close out the college football season.

ESPN’s signature program College GameDay was woven throughout Friday’s action, broadcasting live from outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miam. The show, which was also broadcast on the SEC Network, was hosted by Rece Davis, and featured college football analysts Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and David Pollack breaking down each matchup and making their predictions as to who would win. The show’s production and advertising have markedly changed since its launch in 1987 with Tim Brando, Beano Cook and Lee Corso, the latter of which is still on the air today.

GameDay was maybe a 90-minute show,” said Howard, who has been on the program since he joined ESPN in 2005. “Now, we have a three-hour show. It’s changed dramatically from a sponsorship deal and to the extent to which we cover college football. You have more hours to fill [and] more time to fill.”

David Pollack joined College GameDay in 2011 amid the extension of the show’s air-time with the first hour airing on ESPNU and its addition of Erin Andrews to the panel of analysts. As a three-time All-American defensive end at the University of Georgia, Pollack frequently watched GameDay and has been thrilled to be a part of it as an analyst since he made his debut.

“I watched it over the years since I was in college, and [have] seen it evolve and grow bigger and bigger and bigger,” said Pollack. “The audience and the following [have] grown bigger, [and] to be a part of it has been really cool.”

College GameDay started doing broadcasts live from college campuses in 1993, with a multitude of fans congregating around the set to express their zeal towards their team and to be seen on national television. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic though, protocols to ensure the health and safety of all parties involved have prevented some of the prior congregation and interaction between fans and commentators from taking place.

“Before COVID, we would have fans come up and take pictures after the show was over,” explained Howard. “We had sponsors too, [and] we would have a tent where we would sign autographs. That has pretty much been eliminated because of COVID.”

Pollack added that there is no longer VIP access available backstage, and that anyone going on the set has to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, consistent with restrictions that have been implemented across several U.S. cities, including New York City and San Francisco.

Following a two-year stretch of empty stadiums and/or restricted capacities, along with stringent protocols, a feeling of pandemic fatigue has become prevalent around the world. Undoubtedly, a sign of progress in reaching an ostensible new normal comes in seeing industries like sports media adapt to continue producing stellar content across multiple platforms to be consumed by its audience. For the commentators on College GameDay, bringing viewers coverage from bowl games and championships is something they are genuinely excited to keep doing as the world looks to cease the pandemic and transition into a new lifestyle.

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Roger Goodell: ‘Wouldn’t Surprise Me’ To See Thursday Night Football Move to Flex Scheduling

“Not today, but it’ll certainly be something that’s on our horizon.”

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Thursday Night Football

In 2023, Monday Night Football will join Sunday Night Football in having the ability to flex NFL games into its window. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday Night Football could someday join that elite club.

During his “State of the League” speech Wednesday, Goodell said Thursday Night Football having the ability to flex matchups “wouldn’t at all surprise me”.

“Not today, but it’ll certainly be something that’s on our horizon,” the NFL Commissioner said.

ESPN bargained for the ability to move higher profile games into Monday Night Football during its negotiations with the league for the next television contract that begins this upcoming season.

NBC has long held the ability to shift a select number of games from earlier windows into the Sunday Night Football primetime slot.

Amazon Prime Video just completed the first of an 11-year contract that sees the streaming platform spend nearly $1 billion per year on the Thursday Night Football package.

One of the largest storylines of Amazon’s debut season with the NFL was the near-constant ridicule from play-by-play announcer Al Michaels over the lackluster TNF schedule. Michaels made headlines over several weeks for his candor on the lack of interesting matchups, going as far as to joke that if the schedule didn’t improve he would retire.

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Michael Irvin Removed From NFL Network Super Bowl Coverage

“I came into the lobby and I talked to somebody. I talked to this girl. I don’t know her, and I talked to her for about 45 seconds.”

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A complaint from a female to NFL Network has caused the network to remove Michael Irvin from its Super Bowl coverage.

NFL Network did not comment on the nature of the complaint or the allegation of any impropriety by Irvin, simply stating Irvin would not be a participant in coverage of the event from Arizona.

“Michael Irvin will not be a part of NFL Network’s Super Bowl LVII week coverage,” said NFL Media Vice President of Communications Alex Riethmiller in a statement.

Irvin claimed the interaction happened during a brief moment Sunday after having dinner and drinks with former Cowboy defensive back Michael Brooks.

“This all happened in a 45-second conversation in the lobby,” Irvin told The Dallas Morning News. “When I got back after going out … I came into the lobby and I talked to somebody. I talked to this girl. I don’t know her, and I talked to her for about 45 seconds. We shook hands. Then, I left…That’s all I know.”

Irvin, 56, admitted he didn’t recall the conversation between him and the female but called the interaction “just a friendly conversation”. He defended himself by saying “There was definitely nothing physical”.

The report from The Dallas Morning News added that Glendale police officials do not know about any incident regarding Irvin.

A report from Front Office Sports claims ESPN executives are “poised to pull the plug” on Irvin’s scheduled appearance on First Take from Radio Row Friday.

The Pro Football Hall of Famer has been with NFL Network since 2009, and in August of last year signed an extension to remain with the cable channel.

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Pro Bowl Lowest Rated Since 2006

While the numbers decreased, the Pro Bowl was still the second-highest rated All-Star Game for the major professional sports leagues.

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The NFL completely revamped its Pro Bowl format for the 2022 season, and the changes did not garner more viewers.

An average of 6.28 million viewers tuned into the event across ABC, ESPN, and DisneyXD Sunday for the first 7-on-7 event. That number is a decrease of 6% compared to last year and is the lowest-rated Pro Bowl since the 2006 event saw just 5.96 million viewers. That figure excludes the 2021 Pro Bowl, which was a “virtual” event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the numbers decreased, the Pro Bowl was still the second-highest-rated All-Star Game for the major professional sports leagues, with the MLB All-Star Game seeing an average viewership of 7.51 million. The 6.28 million who watched the Pro Bowl is a virtual tie with last season’s NBA All-Star Game.

The Pro Bowl Skills Challenge — now produced by Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions — did see a large increase in viewership compared to last year. More than 1 million viewers tuned into the Thursday night primetime event, which is the second-best figure on record. That audience is a 23% increase compared to last year’s event.

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