By Paul M. Banks
Once again the old adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know” rings true.
This time it’s applied to ESPN’s location selection process for broadcasting their national college basketball pregame show. From 2003-07 Illinois had MORE WINS than any program in the nation. But ESPN College Gameday never visited once (not even during the Champaign Campaign season of 2004-05, when the Illini tied the all-time record for single season victories). But tomorrow “ESPN College GameDay Driven by State Farm” will broadcast live from the University of Illinois prior to the prime-time basketball matchup between the Fighting Illini and Michigan State. UI is one of just eight universities chosen by ESPN, out of 343 Division 1 basketball programs, for a live GameDay broadcast this season.
So it’s finally happened for the Illini! Unfortunately, it’s in a year that’s actually been very disappointing for the orange and blue. The Illini find themselves on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble and not even remotely close to a national ranking. So why this year? Because the school has the right connections.
On Monday, John Althoff, collegiate sports sponsorship coordinator for State Farm Insurance, was the first speaker at a UI press conference discussing the upcoming broadcast. “It was my hope that we could host College Gameday before my son graduates. Mission accomplished in that respect,” said Althoff, whose title indicates just how much juice he has at the corporation which is the pregame show’s primary sponsor.
Althoff’s son is a student manager for the Illini basketball team. “I want to thank John. He was very instrumental in us landing Gameday, no doubt. His son is one of our managers, he does a fantastic job. With our relationship, we developed a relationship with John…And we’re very excited. And it’s a great honor for our program,” Bruce Weber said at the presser Monday.
ESPN will broadcast over 800 college basketball games this year, but they go on location with their pregame show only eight times, so this indeed a big honor. “The criteria that ESPN uses to select a College Gamdeday site is three-fold. First they look at recent past, and how well a program has done. Then they project how a team will do. These decisions are made in the spring, early summer. And then finally they look at ratings. And given those criteria Illinois has been selected,” Althoff stated Monday.
The show will originate from Assembly Hall at 10 am. The College GameDay crew of Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis and Digger Phelps will be on hand, breaking down the day’s college basketball action and previewing Illinois’ match-up with #5 Michigan State.
The broadcast will bring excitement to local sports fans; but it also benefits the Champaign-Urbana community through a special fundraiser. State Farm will donate $1 to the Orange Krush Foundation, the Illini student-run charity, for each person attending the GameDay show on Saturday morning.
Assembly Hall doors open Saturday at 8 am to the general public and 7:30 am for members of Orange Krush. Both event and parking are free, and students will be allowed to fill in on the floor behind the set. ESPN will also give one fan from the audience a chance to sink a half-court shot. If successful, the shooter will receive $17,500, courtesy of State Farm. Even they miss, the individual will still receive a check for $1,000.Follow paulmbanks