Rarely do offensive linemen find themselves in the limelight, but any true Alabama football fan will tell you that the strength of the Crimson Tide’s National Championship squad was its front five, a unit that could see four graduates playing in the NFL next season.
It’s hard to imagine a team whose 2013 recruiting class is already ranked No. 1 nationally by most sources as having “needs,” but head coach Nick Saban will indeed be looking to fill the gaping holes left by four grads from that offensive line if he hopes to get his team to the promised land again next season.
That’s just one of the many storylines heading into tomorrow, one of the most important days in the college football offseason: National Signing Day.
For the eighth straight year, ESPNU’s Charlotte, NC, studios will be the hub of it all. On Wednesday, the network will be on the air for 10 straight hours with the ESPNU National Signing Day Special, beginning at 9 a.m. ET. The marathon will include live hits from reporters at 13 college campuses, 18 exclusive on-air player commitments, and analysis of up to as many as 2,000 high school players from ESPN’s RecruitingNation.com.
Coordinating all these locations and staying on top of all the breaking information is quite the undertaking, and ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Shawn Murphy has been preparing for it all football season.
“The logistical planning and the technical planning really start in November and December, when we start discussing how many announcements we might have and how many reporters we want on college campuses,” he says. “[It’s] after the BCS Championship Game in January when we finalize all of those things.”
Since National Signing Day began on ESPNU in 2006, the network has expanded its coverage every year with more programming and a greater presence around the country. This year, ESPN will deploy 25 satellite trucks positioned at various college campuses, high schools, and other announcement sites: some commitments, for example, will be declared at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney World.
The biggest logistical challenge for Murphy and his team is coordinating with all the locations where ESPN reporters will be stationed. ESPNU’s Charlotte facility has 12 frame-stores, which is not enough to cover the entire deployed staff. As a result, Murphy will have to have live shots moving from one frame-store to another.
“Our audio engineer has set up all of our cluster lines for IFB and used up most of the phone lines that feed into the frame-stores so that, even when we’re moving different sites from one frame-store to another, everyone is able to keep the same phone numbers throughout the day,” says Murphy. “Our 13 reporters on college campuses will be moving frame-stores from time to time based on the news of the day, but they will be able to stay latched audio-wise at all times. So that certainly helps us coordinate a lot better than if we had to keep telling them different phone numbers to call back every time.”
Much like other high-traffic sports-information shows, such as the NFL or NBA Draft, National Signing Day coverage is anchored by its deep graphics offering. Interfacing graphics will allow the crew to instantly access a wealth of player data collected all season long for the network’s weekly show Recruiting Nation. The production team is ready with B-roll for more than 100 players and with graphics for more than 2,000 players that could potentially run during Wednesday’s broadcast.
“The depth of information that can be utilized through the technology of interfacing graphics is light years ahead,” says Murphy. “We didn’t have a matrix running graphics at all times on the show; we weren’t tapped into a database so that we could have interfaced graphics; every single graphic was a manual build in 2006. Today, we have a constant graphic on the screen telling you about the top classes in the country, who their top recruits are. We have interfaced graphics now that, if we want to talk about, say, Alabama’s offensive-line recruits, we can have that called up in less than five seconds.”
During the telecast, team rankings, ESPN 300 player rankings, and breaking news will be featured in a real-time recruiting side panel — similar to the NFL Draft — that will remain on-screen throughout the entire 10-hour program, including commercial breaks.
ESPNU’s National Signing Day coverage has come a long way since its first effort in 2006. That year, the show was half as long as today’s (still, five hours is nothing to scoff at), B-roll was prepared for only about 50 players, and only three players committed on-air. For Murphy, who has been a part of every ESPNU Signing Day broadcast, the advances are staggering.
“It’s night-and-day difference,” he says. “Just the immediacy that we’re going to have with having reporters at 13 colleges and RecruitingNation.com reporters out getting us information from the high schools, we’re able to be in a lot more places based on the technology and resources that we have today compared to 2006.”
In addition to the lineup of live reports, this year’s show will again be hosted by Rece Davis and Dari Nowkhah. They will be joined by ESPN National Recruiting Director Tom Luginbill and recruiting analyst Craig Haubert, along with college football analysts Mike Bellotti and Rod Gilmore, plus special guest analysts former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik and former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley.
CBS Sports on the Scene, Too
CBS Sports Network, CBSSports.com, MaxPreps.com, and the CBSSports.com College Network also are providing extensive coverage on National Signing Day.
CBS Sports Network offers 5½ hours of live programming featuring recruiting expert Tom Lemming and analysts Ron Zook and Houston Nutt; CBSSports.com provides around-the-clock coverage featuring college football insider Bruce Feldman.
Signing Day kicks off with a one-hour special (noon-1 p.m. ET) on CBS Sports Network featuring host Adam Zucker, Nutt, Zook, and Lemming. Aaron Taylor reports from the International Bowl in Austin, TX. Coverage continues with a three-hour program (4-7 p.m.) and concludes with a recap of all the day’s news at midnight.
CBS will boast a strong online video presence as well. Leading the day’s coverage on CBSSports.com will be National Signing Day Live, eight straight hours (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) of live reporting and analysis of the latest commitments, along with rankings, player features, and more. Hosted by Kevin Corke and including appearances by Feldman, Jeremy Fowler, and other recruiting experts, National Signing Day Live will feature live check-ins from college campuses across the country, interviews with coaches, breaking-news updates and analysis, profiles on the top five players at each position, and team and conference rankings.
In addition, the more than 125 official school athletics sites produced by the CBSSports.com College Network will offer live-streamed press conferences and exclusive on-demand video content, with various in-depth features and individual recruit-highlight packages when available. The CBSSports.com College Network produces the official athletics site for 49 of the 68 schools in the top six conferences.
The National Signing Day online video content can be accessed through each school’s All-Access broadband product, where applicable.
In addition, CBS Sports Network’s coverage includes the 2013 International Bowl, featuring the U.S. Under-19 national team against the IFAF (International Federation of American Football) World Team.