At long last, ESPN’s College GameDay is COMING TO my CITTTAAAAAY. The show, which is supposed to be broadcast from college campuses—or at least places where college football games are held—uses a sea of passionate fans holding signs as its backdrop. But for its September 23 episode, the network has decided to broadcast the show from Times Square, the first time that it will ever be filmed in New York City.
Start spreading the news ...— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) September 14, 2017
For the first time ever, we're headed to New York City next week! pic.twitter.com/VVhGw9vjwZ
GameDay has become a seminal part of college football Saturdays, and its choice of location unofficially signifies which game is most important in a given week. But there aren’t a ton of great matchups in Week 4; the best is probably between no. 20 TCU and no. 9 Oklahoma State, and, as the AP’s Ralph Russo notes, the show’s producers might be saving Stillwater for the all-important Bedlam game between Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
Part of GameDay’s appeal is that it brings fans across the nation that brilliant feeling of walking around a college football town on a Saturday morning—if you’ve ever lived in one, you’ve felt it. Everyone is wearing the same color, all excited by the same thing. This does not happen in New York City, no matter how much Big Ten officials try to claim that it’s a Rutgers town. As someone who has lived here for my entire life, I can confidently say that the only time I see people dressed in the same clothing walking around on a Saturday morning is when I go through South Williamsburg and spot Hasidic men on their way to shul. Life as a college football fan here is weird: Sometimes I’ll see somebody on the street wearing an Ohio State hat and think, HOLY CRAP, that person cares about the same thing I do! and momentarily consider running up to talk about J.T. Barrett. That’s how starved for college football discourse I am here.
ESPN’s release—which characterizes New York City as a “melting pot of college football fans”—mentions that alumni of many schools can be found New York, and lots of them meet up at team-specific bars to watch games. While it’s true that some college football fans are here, there is some of everything here. New York can never have the singular verve that GameDay seeks to capture.
And the show isn’t just in New York—it’s in Times Square, the worst part of New York, or, for that matter, any place on earth. Times Square is a walking nightmare, a dystopia of hundred-foot-tall flashing advertisements that tower over streets inhabited by aggressive cartoon characters. I cannot stress enough to out-of-towners that there is no good reason why any New Yorker would ever go to Times Square. Surely, there will be people in the background as GameDay films next Saturday; surely, most of those people will not be there for GameDay.
While there might not be a huge matchup September 23, GameDay would have been far better served choosing a place where a small game was happening, as it did in 2013 and 2014 when it went to Fargo, North Dakota, to check out multiple-time FCS champion North Dakota State. The team the Bison were playing wasn’t important; paying homage to the ludicrously passionate NDSU fan base was. GameDay should have gone to a game, any game. Why not go to Washington State, the school whose fans travel across the country week after week to display a flag in the GameDay background, before the Cougars host Nevada? I promise the atmosphere at Wazzu—or basically any school—would be thrilling, even if the game itself is not.
Instead, GameDay will broadcast from a city with no relevant games. This decision likely saves ESPN travel costs (there is an ABC studio overlooking Times Square), but it sets a terrible precedent. Lee Corso famously ends every episode by predicting the winner of the game happening at a site by donning the head of that school’s mascot. Broadcasting from Times Square, the only question is: Will Corso pick Spider-Man or Elmo?