Lee Fitting, ESPN College GameDay's senior coordinating producer, stopped by to chat with the media on Friday in preparation for Saturday's telecast. Check out his thoughts on Northwestern, what goes into the GameDay location decision, how long this game has been on his radar and more.
Can you walk us through the process of how you pick the sites and where Northwestern first entered the conversation?
Northwestern's been on the radar — this game has been on the radar — for months. We put together our preliminary list last spring and saw this game, and it was on the top of the list for five or six months. But we plan it out week-to-week and it's not always the best game of the week — most people think it's the best game — but I would like to categorize it as the best story of the week. This happens to be the best story and the best game, so we sort of killed two birds with one stone. But it's a group process from the on-air guys and myself and management back in Bristol on where we decide to go each week, and most weeks it's fairly clear-cut. Some of the lunatic fringe in the fan bases out there think we're making the wrong decision, typically, but I think most of the time it's the right call.
What were some of the other games you considered this week?
Washington-Stanford was sort of 1.A. this week. After that there's a significant drop in games this week. It's Ohio State-Northwestern and Washington-Stanford. I mean the third game matching two undefeated teams this week is Maryland and Florida State, but it's at Doak and not many people think Maryland can win, so it's sort of a drop-off. So it was between these two games.
Did the fact that Stanford hosts Oregon later in the year play into your decision?
No. We'll go back to a place two, three times if we have to. I like to focus on what's in front of us this week, not two, three, four weeks down the line. It may be in the back of our head, it may factor in a little bit, but it's week-to-week.
What's the "story" for this game?
It's Northwestern's rise to prominence. I've been in this position a number of years. Ohio State finally facing a ranked opponent is nice. If Ohio State wins this game, it will be the highest-ranked opponent they beat in the Urban Meyer tenure, which is pretty amazing when in a year-and-a-half they haven't faced a team ranked higher than the mid-teams. It's an obvious one. We haven't been to Evanston in close to 20 years and we imagine the scene will be great here. It was a no-brainer to come here.
What is the national perspective of the job Pat Fitzgerald has done?
Coach Fitz has been great. It's amazing what he's done here, and I know folks don't want to hear it here, but I know a bigger job and bigger school is going to come calling at some point. If they don't, they're crazy. From my perspective he does everything the right way — he's got the players' respect, he's got the community's respect, the school's respect. He's great, he's the perfect fit here. It's been unbelievable, to get them where they're at now, it's awesome.
Talk about the setting on the Lakefill.
To be by the lake is cool. We want different venues. We don't want to every week to look exactly the same. If it did, it would get old and it would get boring. You hope the weather clears and we can get a glimpse of Chicago here, but to be up by the lake is going to be a different natural atmosphere and a different vibe, and we're hoping there are 8,000 to 10,000 people here and the place will be rocking and it will be great.
Note: We didn't get this on the recorder, but Fitting said that as long as there's no lightning and as long as there aren't dangerous winds, they'll broadcast from the set on the Lakefill. Rain isn't an issue. However, if there is lightning, a couple of the analysts will be filmed inside the bus and finish the show with the backup crew in Bristol.
Was Deering Meadow your top choice?
That was our initial ask. It was never in the plans. Our ask was Deering Meadow. That's what we wanted to do — it just screamed Northwestern, looking at the pictures when we sent our crew out here. Homecoming activities sort of prohibited us from doing that. We're thrilled and happy to be here. It's going to be a great venue.
The Northwestern folks worked their tail off trying to make that space available, and there are just too many things to move around that have been in the works for too long, and it just didn't work out.
How did the push from the NU fan base, especially on social media, compare to other big time fan bases? And how much did that influence you guys?
It wasn't the biggest push that we've seen. The biggest push I've seen is still from the Ole Miss folks (Note: Ole Miss has never had GameDay). They're out of their minds. All the social media stuff just makes me laugh. I'm not looking that and saying, 'Oh my God, now we're gotta go here.' It's fun, I read it, get a chuckle out of it, block some people, but we're not basing our decision on that. But there was a good outcry of support to come here, which is nice. It's exciting. It was sort of a little bit above average, which is good, but by no means was it the most that I've seen.