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The College GameDay Experience: A Review

Want to know what it’s like?

On Saturday, I attended ESPN’s College GameDay in Blacksburg, Virginia for the Clemson @ Virginia Tech game. It was a very last minute decision, but I figured that given my opportunity, one that I can’t guarantee I’d have again, and the fact that my apartment was a 10 minute walk away, I should go. On Friday, I bought $7 worth of poster supplies, made my sign, and planned to get a good night’s rest before the show. Why? Because students were allowed to start lining up as early as 4am on Saturday. I had a sign that I wanted to show so decided that I was going to be one of those students.


I ended up going to bed past midnight after a night on the town (Blacksburg is only fun when the population of downtown increases from visiting opposing fans) and I managed to squeeze in what was probably a single cycle of REM sleep. I woke up naturally at 3am because I was so excited. It felt like Christmas Eve as a kid where you just can’t sleep in anticipation. I started getting ready, decked out in a black Rutgers sweatshirt (it’s cold in the wee hours of the am), a white Rutgers cap, my big Block R shirt underneath in case it warmed up, and comfy pants and shoes. Made sure to do a decent job on my make-up in case I was caught on ESPN’s HD cameras. I was pumped and ready to go. Left my apartment at 3:55 and arrived to a good chunk of people already at Virginia Tech’s Alumni Mall. I saw tents on the sidewalk and I know that some of the students likely waited all night. However, there was no “line” like the website suggested—it was a mob of students surrounding the pit area, trying to be as close to this area as possible for when they “started letting people in at 5a.m.” I said to myself, “okay, I’m here at 4:11, just 50 more minutes until something clear happens.” How wrong I was.

We were all just standing there in this mob unsure of whether to hold our signs up or down. Random, “LET’S GO—- HOKIEESS” cheers permeated the awkward chatter. People were all talking to each other to help pass the time, and I ended up chatting for a bit with this one girl because we both came alone and few people did. Groups of people kept arriving and somehow time moved forward to 6:30, for which I was standing the whole time. There was some operations guy talking to students away from where I was, but I figured, if it was anything important, SURELY they would announce something over a megaphone or the many loudspeakers that were there. Suddenly, a little past 6:30 the mob of students to the left of my area of the mob starts running back down Alumni Mall forming a “line.” Some people on my side ran and followed the crowd, but most of us just stood there confused until someone told us we had to go make a line— a line that was now about 34 of a football field long. Basically, it felt like a bunch of us closer to the pit, those of us who got there early, showed up for nothing.

So I and others walked to the back of the line as we had no choice. We’re standing in line marveling at the ridiculousness of the disorganization for not even 5 minutes when all of a sudden the dissolves with all of us running forward to re-assemble into another blob, this one in the street, and then another line (I still have no idea why. ESPN and its vast wealth and resources apparently can’t afford a megaphone). At this point there is now a blob, with a line attached to it, closer to the front. I was stuck in the blob, near-ish to the pit, and I mean stuck. At 5’1” I was one of the shortest people in the crowd and had little room to move and strength to fight. I don’t know at what point they started letting people into the pit, but all I know is that they were not picking from a line. In this timeframe I got to watch the sun come up and it was confirmed to me that ESPN College GameDay show operations just don’t know what a megaphone is. As I got closer to the front of the mob, I could see and hear an operations woman letting people in. A few moments later she screamed, “I need three ladies.” I raised my hand and started following two other girls in front of me when all of a sudden this guy very purposefully shoves in front of me, as if he did not hear that they were letting women into the pit at the moment. No matter, I was only 2 rows from the front and I got chosen within 3 minutes. I emptied my pockets, was wanded down, had my sign read, and was let into the pit. I actually made it and I was so incredibly relieved and happy. Earlier, there was a point in which I truly felt like I arrived at 4am for nothing, and there is no doubt that some shovier people who arrived later made it to the pit, but whatever, I was in and I was close to the front.

Talking heads getting ready.

That’s when I looked at my phone and saw that the time was only 7:10. I still had 1 hour and 50 minutes of standing before the start of the show. They had 3 screens with countdowns on them, but at that point I had spent so much time looking up over people that my neck was killing me, so I didn’t bother. I’m a naturally positive person though, and I was still pumped in spite of the stressful and disorganized morning leading up to this moment. As show time approached, the talking heads started to appear one by by one to get sound checked. They gave us some light acknowledgement early on, but not much more than a passive wave. Everyone screamed when Lee Corso came out, of course, especially given some lightning thing that happened to him a few years prior after he didn’t pick the Hokies to win. A little bit before 9am, the show operator, I guess you could call him, had us practice jumping around in the pit a few times for the start of the show. When your feet are killing you, you’re tired, hungry, and really have to pee, this is not fun. I got hit in the face, head, and shoulders by elbows and bodies. BUT I KEPT MY SIGN UP AND SAFE.

FINALLY, 9am arrived and the show started, and so began the fight to have our signs showed on TV. We had the show broadcast to us on 2 big separate screens and over speakers, so we knew what scenes we were on which was good— but as a shorty, I couldn’t see it very well. I managed to fight my way to the 2nd row back from the front, right in the middle of the talking heads. I stayed there for 2.5 hours hoping that the sign-less people in front would eventually LEAVE like others did, but they didn’t. At some point in all of this, they started to hand out Home Depot GameDay helmets and Home Depot gloves, but because I was about 6-12 inches shorter than everyone around me, I was unable to snag either item. By the time it was all over, I had stood for 8 hours straight. Not one bathroom break, no food, no water (not allowed in the pit), and no resting squats (I would have been kicked in the head). All of this to get an OTE inside joke on TV, but I actually did—look at where I was!

Yep. I was right in the middle there for pretty much most of the show. A few people in front of me, as well as the cheerleaders’ megaphone would block it every now and again, but I got some good shots of it in!

I was told that the sign was a lot more readable live. There was even a solid view of it from the aerial zip line camera.

I’m sure Gameday will travel to some major Big Ten matchup this year, so if you’re considering going I’ll give you some pointers and some heads up’s:

  • You will be VERY close to people. You may be close to some very gross people because College kids can be gross. I saw many boogers, tons of crusty skin, chunks of earwax, smelled smelly people, gross hair, etc. I wanted to jump into a vat of isopropyl alcohol when all was said and done. I personally dislike being very close to people in this manner (I don’t like concert and big crowds), so if you’re like me, this part will not be pleasant.
  • If you’re short don’t go. If you’re tall you’ll be hated by the short people, but you’ll actually have a good experience.
  • Unless you have a sign that is REALLY worth showing, not just some generic sign that only you think is funny— like, get some reviews— it’s not worth fighting through everything when your sign is trash. The annoying kid in front of me for much of the show had a god-awful reversible sign that said, “Dabo Sweeney smells like hot dog water” on one side, and “Kelly is a girl’s name on the other.” (supposed to be a Kelly Bryant insult). Gotta love trying to insinuate a woman’s name is an insult in 2017.
  • Don’t go to the middle of the pit behind the two middle talking heads. This is where I was. It seems cool, but there were cooler places I thought. Go off to one of the sides in between the talking heads on the left or right (because they zoom in on them). Or even better, go to the edge of the pit where they have the bleachers or other chairs for interviews set up. Your sign will be seen at a MUCH closer view and better angle. Even though I was smack in the middle, they just don’t try to focus in on it. Also, when the celebrity comes in, you’re 100% obscured.
  • Read the College GameDay rules. There are clear rules online for what is and isn’t allowed on a sign. I remember multiple collective groans and whines when the video board flashed, “no signs on sticks,” and, “no political signs.” (which eliminated nearly all the Trump-based signs, however funny they were.)
  • If you have a sign you really want to be seen, it may be more worth it to not be in the pit and rather be in the front row of the general area. From what I saw on the screens, those signs were clear as day with little to no obstruction.
  • Eat ahead of time. Don’t drink ahead of time. Bathroom breaks means lost spot.

Overall my review of GameDay is that it was... fine because I had a sign and a mission, and actually accomplished the mission. However, I would not do it again, and especially not as a sign-less spectator. Maybe if I was surrounded by my friends and Rutgers fans it would be more fun, but the experience while there and doing it is not something I’m thinking back very fondly on for various reasons mentioned above. However, I’m sure it will get better with distance and hindsight and surely my experience won’t be the same/applicable at all College GameDays

If it’s in your city and is little effort to make a sign and get to the show, then do it, but don’t feel sad for, “missing” your chance.