Wilner Hotline: Pac-12 Welcomes Back ESPN College Gameday

Arizona Sports News online

(AP Photo/Sam Craft, File)

Story by Jon Wilner 

This is quite the week for UCLA.

The men’s basketball team debuted at No. 2 in the Associated Press preseason poll, while the women checked in at No. 20. The football team faces 10th-ranked Oregon on Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl, and the campus gets to host a pre-dawn party.

ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ is headed to Westwood, and that’s a big deal — not only for the Bruins but the conference.

“It’s three hours of highlights of how great UCLA is and how great the Pac-12 is,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond told the Hotline earlier this week.

“This is UCLA. We’re proud of the success we’ve had. We’ve got 120 national championships. We’re the No. 1-rated public university in the country. The energy is real in Westwood.”

The Bruins haven’t hosted ‘GameDay’ since the 1998 season — the year of their last conference championship. But that broadcast was from the Rose Bowl. This week’s show will be the first-ever from campus.

It’s also the first ‘GameDay’ broadcast from any Pac-12 campus in three years, since that epic morning at Washington State during the peak of Minshew Mania.

Three years is a long time for a Power Five conference to wait for love from the most influential show in college sports.

“ESPN’s decision to bring ‘GameDay’ to (Westwood) this Saturday is a credit to the national success and following of these two fantastic teams and the significance of the game itself for the postseason,” Pac-12 football operations chief Merton Hanks told the Hotline via email.

“ESPN does a fabulous job promoting ‘GameDay’ matchups; we look forward to having the spotlight on two elite Pac-12 teams.”

The spotlight is significant.

‘GameDay’ is averaging 1.8 million viewers this season, according to ESPN. That’s more viewers than all but five Pac-12 games this season: Oregon-Ohio State (7.7 million viewers), Washington-Michigan (4.7 million), Colorado-Texas A&M (4.5 million), UCLA-LSU (3.2 million) and Oregon-Stanford (2.6 million).

(Figures taken from SportsMediaWatch.)

The decision to bring ‘GameDay’ to the West Coast this week makes sense on two fronts:

— The matchup itself is compelling, with a top-10 team (Oregon) facing its former coach (Chip Kelly) and two programs that carry national appeal. Both won showcase intersectional games earlier in the season to provide a foundation for audience support.

— This is one of the lightest weeks of the season, with no matchups of ranked teams.

Once the UCLA-Oregon duel entered the ‘GameDay’ broadcast discussion, the Bruins pushed for the show to be based on campus.

“That’s where the students are, and our energy starts with the students,” Jarmond said. “It was never an option for it to be at the Rose Bowl. ‘GameDay’ should be for the students and to showcase the campus.”

The ‘GameDay’ visit to Washington State in 2018 generated more than $1 million in free advertising for the Cougars, according to an analysis commissioned by the university.

UCLA’s athletic department will spend the rest of the week making sure the students are aware of the ‘GameDay’ broadcast, which begins at 6 a.m. from Wilson Plaza in the center of campus.

The three-hour broadcast will feature a guest picker and a steady stream of luminaries.

“We have to get people back in the spirit of coming to campus and to games,” Jarmond said. “It’s important to start bringing people together again.”

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