If you’re headed out to the “Worst State Ever” to watch the Nittany Lions take on Ohio State in Columbus, and you’re crazy enough to go to College GameDay (but didn’t make it to GameDay in State College or want to improve your experience), it’s important to understand what you’re getting yourself into. If you’re getting up in the middle of the night, you’ll certainly want to maximize your experience.
Here’s what you should know before you arrive at the set:
The Rules Only Apply to the Pit
There are a bunch of heavily publicized rules for College GameDay that you should certainly be aware of — but only if you’re hoping to get into the pit. Here are those rules:
- No bags, backpacks, or purses are permitted
- No offensive, vulgar, inappropriate, or solicitation signage will be allowed (i.e., no political, religious, or .com, .org, .net signage)
- No signs or flags on a stick
- No pens, pencils, markers, or dry erase boards
- No food or drinks
- No throwing stuff
The confusing thing about these rules is that as long as you are outside of the pit, which is the area directly behind the analysts that is closed off by fences, you don’t have to follow all of those rules. They still may come take your sign away if it has inappropriate content on it and we never recommend throwing things, but you can bring a bag, food, have your sign on a stick, and basically carry whatever else you might want.
The Set Setup
Unless you’ve been to GameDay before, the way the audience is split up may surprise you. It’s hard to see on TV, but there are a few distinct sections that fans can watch from. The pit can be seen below, which is the rectangle directly behind the actual set:
We’ll get into what you may need to do to get in there later in the post, but the pit is pretty much where the main action is. You can see from this aerial shot that there is a lane that runs behind the pit and wraps around along the side.
To the left of the pit is the heavily sponsored area for Coke advertising, just behind the side stage. If you don’t plan on bringing a sign but want to be close to the set, this area is for you. The people in this area waited in a specific line to get in.
Essentially everywhere else in the crowd is considered the general audience.
When To Get There
Here at Penn State, students weren’t allowed to start lining up to get into the pit until 4 a.m. Except some started lining up at around 2 a.m. Essentially, don’t expect an ESPN official to be there making sure students don’t arrive in the wee hours of the night.
If you want to be in the pit, getting to the set obscenely early is probably your best bet. If you don’t care about getting into the pit, you could probably arrive around 7 a.m. and find yourself in a pretty great spot, a few rows back from the edge of the pit, by the time the show really gets going.
How To Get Screen Time for Your Sign
If you’re just dying to have your parents see your sign on TV and maybe even make it on the College GameDay Twitter account, you should try to get into the pit. More specifically, you should go to the side of the pit with the walking path (which is off to the left if you’re watching on TV).
The camera people walk up and down these walking paths and get shots of the signs they like. If you’re right in the middle of the pit, you may get some time in the background next to Lee Corso or Kirk Herbstreit, but you’ll blend right into the masses.
Another good idea is to aim for the first row behind the pit, which is the general audience area, and put your sign on a stick. Using this strategy, you could get your sign in the clear above the signs in the pit.
If you are going to use a stick, make sure it is secured to your sign. Just as filming started this past weekend, someone’s hand went up in excitement and knocked my sign clean off of the stick which had been Gorilla Glued on. Damn you, Gorilla Glue.
Expect the Unexpected
With a crowd of college students that just want to get on TV, you can expect some degree of mayhem. For example, there was an unbelievably long, but surprisingly orderly, line for the pit from (presumably) 2 a.m. until 6 a.m., when, for no particular reason, everyone suddenly rushed the set.
I happened to get to the front row just behind the Coke sponsor area, expecting to be let into that area at some point, but that didn’t happen. It turned out that getting into that section, as I mentioned before, meant lining up somewhere else and not having a sign. No one was around to explain this to the hundreds of students waiting eagerly to be let into that section.
Basically, don’t expect someone from ESPN to be there explaining how it all works. To some extent, you just have to go with the flow. It’s all part of the experience.