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Peterson: Behind the scenes of Iowa State’s first venture into the world of ESPN’s football ‘College GameDay’

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Watch as “College GameDay” sets up outside of Jack Trice Stadium in less than three minutes.
Brian Powers, bpowers@dmreg.com

AMES, Ia. — It’s 5 a.m. on Friday.

Steve Malchow couldn’t sleep. His day’s anticipated itinerary rolled around to such a sleep-depriving extreme that, “hey, I’m goin’ to work.”

So Iowa State’s senior associate athletics director packed his business bag and headed to work.

First stop?

The ESPN “College GameDay” stages that were being set up just behind Jack Trice Stadium’s south end zone.

ESPN Gameday host Rece Davis on Ames and his love of rivalry games
Zachary Boyden-Holmes, DesMoines

Even 24 hours before the show, fans were milling around the area where thousands of sign-holding fans will congregate. They took pictures. They played bags. They looked starstruck when the “talent” walked passed.

“The tailgate scene, even when I called a Thursday night football game here, blew me away,” GameDay host Rece Davis said while standing near the main stage Friday. “I can only imagine what it will be like for the Cy-Hawk — and on a Saturday.”

Most of the crew got into town Wednesday or Thursday. Kirk Herbstreit was expected to arrive Friday afternoon. Same with Lee Corso.

More: Think you know Cy-Hawk history? Take our quiz to find out

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ESPN’s Desmond Howard talks Brock Purdy, A. J. Epenesa, and finally coming to Ames
Zachary Boyden-Holmes, DesMoines

Desmond Howard spent Thursday night looking for record shops that were open — but unfortunately, he found none.

Davis checked out local barbecue.

“We had a big tray of meat last night at Hickory Park, and that was good,” Davis said. “We had lots and lots and lots of meat. I’d eaten there before; I forgot about the portions.

“The portions may mean they have to send one of those John Deere gators to roll you out after it’s over.”

Malchow, meanwhile, was going through his mental checklist. From an administrative standpoint, this has been his baby since Iowa State learned last Saturday afternoon that ESPN was coming to town.

It’s not his first rodeo — he’s been through it three times as Wisconsin’s media relations director in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

He’s a grizzled veteran when it comes to stuff like this. He’s had a front-row seat to the evolution of what has become appointment Saturday morning viewing for college football enthusiasts.

“The first year at Wisconsin, this was a new entity,” Malchow said, now sitting behind his desk as his cellphone was blowing up with text messages. “It didn’t have a real strong track record. In 2003, all of a sudden, they added the component of ESPN radio. In 2004, the new addition was the demonstration field.

“Today, there’s all sorts of activation pieces.”

Iowa State’s one of just a handful of schools that will have hosted both men’s basketball and football “GameDay” shows after Saturday’s airing. It’s a boon for the university — not just the athletics department. It’s a big deal for the Ames community. It’s a biggie for everyone that has a stake in the Cyclones.

“This show puts a national spotlight on Iowa State University, giving us a chance to showcase one of America’s most beautiful campuses, our excellent academic programs, and top-ranked college-town atmosphere,” university president Wendy Wintersteen said in an email to the Register. “Coach Matt Campbell and athletics director Jamie Pollard are proving it — Iowa State athletics is at a new and higher level.”

It could be a boost at the fund-raising level, too. Right now, for example, construction has started for a new $90 million sports performance center.

“No one’s going to say they’re giving you more because you’re having GameDay, but it’s one more topic you have to talk about,” said Frank Nogel, senior AD whose job includes fundraising.

“Anytime you get national exposure like this, it helps build your brand. Whether we’re trying to sell tickets, whether we’re raising money for facilities projects, whether we’re recruiting new donors into our Cyclone Club — it’s a three-hour commercial for the university.”

Randy Peterson is the Iowa State columnist for the Register. Reach him at rpeterson@dmreg.com, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete. No one covers the Cyclones like the Register. Subscribe today at Des Moines Register.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.

Source: Des Moines Register