KU Facilities, ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ give university weekend to remember
LAWRENCE – Shawn Harding knew it would be a busier week than usual when the announcement was made that ESPN’s “College Gameday” planned to air its football show from Lawrence. For the first time, “College GameDay” featured the University of Kansas football team in a matchup against Texas Christian University on Oct. 8.
Standing in front of the Memorial Campanile two days after the mayhem, Harding – KU’s director of Facilities Services – looked down the Hill and to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium and pondered all that occurred in this area over the last several days.
“It was a fun experience,” Harding said. “ESPN said we were great to work with. Our facilities team thought creatively on their feet to give them the best experience we could because we want them to come back.”
Although KU came up short on the gridiron in a 38-31 loss to TCU, the weekend was an undeniable success for the university. “College GameDay” had an average viewer count of 2.3 million, a 22% increase from its Week 6 show in 2021.
“We looked at it as an incredible opportunity,” said Daniel Berk, assistant athletics director. “(Head football coach) Lance Leipold mentioned a few times that it’s a three-hour infomercial for our program and university. Our fans were incredible. From a facilities and operational standpoint, it was flawless.”
The show in Lawrence ranks as the ESPN program’s best pre-November show since 2010 and the sixth-best episode since the show expanded to three hours in 2013. Berk pointed to the fall enrollment numbers, the largest since 2008, to demonstrate the impact athletic success can have on the university.
“Basketball got that train rolling,” Berk said. “When you see the Kansas brand everywhere, people are curious and want to know more.”
The Kansas brand was front and center for three hours in front of a national audience that day, and that would not have happened without the work of the KU facilities team. Meetings between KU facilities and ESPN personnel began Oct. 2. Two days later, ESPN personnel walked the Hill with Harding and KU Athletics facilities personnel to decide how to set up the “GameDay” set.
Then the real work commenced. Berk lauded the work of the KU Athletics facilities crew, which he noted is accustomed to hosting the ESPN gameday program for basketball. However, the show for football is a much bigger undertaking.
The first major project came with the realization that ESPN’s crew needed to fill up cisterns with approximately 8,000 to 9,000 gallons of water to hold down their stages and video board. The only problem, according to Harding, is the facilities water truck is heavy enough to break concrete. Driving it to the bottom of the hill to fill the cisterns wasn’t an option.
Fortunately, a member of the facilities crew came up with the idea of using the fire hydrant near the south entrance of the football stadium. They located enough hoses and devices to put on the end of each hose to fill up different sized cisterns simultaneously.
“We deal with a lot of emergencies,” Harding said. “We’re tuned to thinking creatively on the fly, too. A lot of stuff that goes on in some of the old buildings on campus makes us get creative to keep things running.”
Harding estimated around 12 facilities employees aided in the efforts throughout the week, which included plumbers, landscape, electricians, Harding and other supervisors.
Once the initial work to set up was complete, the line of dialogue between ESPN and Harding was ongoing throughout the week. And facilities personnel were able to complete each request, starting with the grounds crew recreating a smaller version of the “KANSAS” painting on the Hill close to the “GameDay” setup to be featured on television.
When ESPN requested the removal of three streetlights along the hill, KU electricians answered the call. They removed each light and installed a cover on each remaining structure to cover exposed wires. This ensured that those streetlights did not obstruct the main television camera shot in addition to the aerial camera, which ran from a tree on the hill to a light pole inside the stadium. All three lights have since been reinstalled.
When ESPN decided it wanted to involve the Memorial Campanile in the show as more than a breathtaking backdrop, Harding took crew members to the top of the tower to install a GoPro to provide aerial shots during the show.
The work throughout the rest of the Lawrence campus didn’t stop. Even so, Harding and his team found time to help create a picturesque backdrop to a historic day for the football program and the university, viewed by millions of people.
“We have a lot of stuff going on,” Harding said of his facilities team with a smile, “but we figured it. Everybody was thrilled to jump into it.
“Our team was really great.”
Top photo: Members of the KU crew setting up for ESPN's "College GameDay" program Oct. 8. From left to right: Shawn Harding, Joe Baker, David Alvarez, Mike Geffre, Josh LaTour, Caleb Martin, Brian Maul and Gene Normandin.
Top right photo: A view of the crowd at ESPN's "College GameDay" program on the Hill on KU's Lawrence campus.
Bottom right photo: A fire hydrant near the south entrance of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium was temporarily utilized to meet the needs of the ESPN "College GameDay" program.