CBS Sports Network, ESPNU Cover the Country on Signing Day

By Karen Hogan & Brandon Costa

Wednesday marks a memorable day for hundreds of student athletes across the country as National Signing Day takes center stage. The first Wednesday in February typically marks the first time that a high school senior can sign a binding National Letter of Intent for college football with a school that is a member of the NCAA and the event has grown into a NFL Draft-like phenomenon for college football fans.

Beginning today, CBS Sports Network and ESPNU will offer a combined 18 hours of live programming dedicated to announcing, analyzing, and digesting commitments as they come in from elite prospects from across the country.

CBS Sports Network
The keystone of CBS Sports Network’s Signing Day coverage lies in its insider access at the University of Arizona with newly hired head coach Rich Rodriguez. The former CBSSN analyst will welcome CBS’s Aaron Taylor where he will have a behind-the-scenes look at signing day behind the curtain of a up and coming BCS program.

CBS will offer fans a tour of the Wildcats facility and an exclusive interview with “Rich Rod” on how the first few weeks on the job have gone for him. Having just taken over the program in December, Rodriguez will also be able to offer the unique perspective of what it takes to salvage a recruiting class after taking the reins so late in the process.

The network will also broadcast live via satellite uplink from the International Bowl, an all-star game between the U.S. Under-19 National Team and the IFAF World Team that includes a large crop of the nation’s top recruits. Brian Jones will report from Austin, TX where he will interview many of these prep players, some of which who will be making their college decisions. The game will also be broadcast on CBS Sports Network later that night (6 p.m. ET) with the crew working out of Mansion Mobile’s ME-2 unit..

“It’s a good way for us to get a good bang for our buck to promote a good event on our air that night and spend some time with a lot of these kids and tell their stories,” says Tyler Hale, VP of studio production for CBS Sports Network.

Signing Day coverage will be run primarily out of CBS Sports Network’s New York City studios with occasional visits to the CBSSports.com facilities in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The network is confident that what makes its coverage stand out from the competition is the comprehensive knowledge of analyst Tom Lemming, who covers the recruiting trail all year for the network and CBSSports.com.

“Our philosophy about Signing Day is to do what we do best,” says Hale. “We’ve got guys like Tom [Lemming] and our high school football recruiting team [Max Preps] and they work on this stuff all year ‘round. They can provide perspective and analysis on the classes and we feel that our information and our data is what we do best.”

Both CBS Sports Network and CBSSports.com will offer eight hours of live programming.  CBS Sports National Signing Day kicks off the coverage tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET with a special edition of Lemming Report, a weekly high school football recruiting show.

Signing Day coverage then picks up on Wednesday with a five-hour program beginning at 1:00 p.m. anchored by Adam Zucker and Molly Qerim in New York. Joining them in studio will be Lemming, former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel, former Illinois head coach Ron Zook, and MaxPreps.com National Football Editor Steve Spiewak.

“We’re really looking forward to have Rick and Ron in,” says Hale. “The reason that we have those guys in the studios as opposed to our regular football analysts is because as recent head coaches, those guys were on the recruiting trail. So they have a first-hand knowledge of a great deal of the players that we’re going to be talking about. They’ve been in their living rooms and met their parents and high school coaches. So to have somebody on set who can offer that immediate perspective is very helpful.”

In addition, the over 160 official athletic school sites produced by the CBSSports.com College Network, will offer live streaming 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 athletic site for 50 of the 66 (76%) BCS eligible schools from the big six conferences.

ESPNU
ESPNU kicks off its seventh annual National Signing Day Special on Wednesday, featuring 10 hours of continuous coverage from over 30 locations across the country.  Beginning at 9 a.m., the network’s multiplatform coverage will simulcast on ESPN3 and include live look-ins on SportsCenter throughout the day.

“Last year we had reporters at six different college campuses,” says Shawn Murphy, senior coordinating producer, ESPNU. “This year, we’re going to be at 13. We’ve got 11 player announcements at 10 different schools. We’re going to be a lot more places than we’ve ever been, and that’s the biggest change [over last year] — trying to get more on-campus presence, more presence with the top players, and really take the viewer around the country.”

ESPNU will roll out an uplink truck to each of the 13 college campuses – Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Penn State, USC, Oregon, and Notre Dame – and 10 high schools. An uplink camera, reporter, and producer round out the on-site complement at each of the 23 locations. Several sites will also feature an ESPN.com reporter.

In addition to live reports from the 23 staffed sites, ESPNU’s coverage will include interviews with high school players and college coaches via satellite, and live reports from Super Bowl XLVI Media Day in Indianapolis. 2012 Indiana University commit Kevin Davis will interview NY Giants and New England Patriots players on their own signing day.

Feeds from the various locations will return to ESPNU’s headquarters in Charlotte, NC, where Rece Davis and Dari Nowkhah will host the National Signing Day Special, accompanied by a team of experts in scouting, recruiting, playing, and coaching college football. Murphy’s team will be on hand, equipped with a down-to-the-moment schedule and assignment list.

“We’ve basically mapped out a plan where we have 12 frame stores where we can put the feeds into,” explained Murphy. “We have one person who’s going to be dedicated to choosing, when we have overlap, what feeds go into frame stores. We have three engineers that are solely focused on working on transmission, [getting] all the sites cleared, and [routing] everything into the frame stores so that we can go live with announcements, reporter hits, or breaking news. It’s been a lot of planning and making sure everybody’s on the same page.”

ESPNU’s 10 hours of continuous coverage will also feature several pre-produced elements.  The top 25 players from the 2012 ESPN Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando, FL, took part in a virtual production session last week in Bristol, where they were filmed in front of a green screen.  Throughout the National Signing Day Special, ESPNU will call up these shots with graphics and statistics.

Additional elements include player personality pieces, state-by-state and school-by-school analysis, and a recreated war-room that mimics the athlete-selection process.

Leading up to Wednesday’s day-long coverage of Signing Day, ESPNU will post videos on Facebook and YouTube and encourage coaches and players across the country to tweet. On Wednesday, fans can interact with ESPNU analysts and reporters on twitter via #signingday, join the conversation on ESPNU’s Facebook page or ESPN.com’s day-long chat.

“It’s a cross between NFL Draft coverage and Election Day coverage,” says Murphy, of ESPNU’s coverage of National Signing Day, “where we’re bouncing around the country, getting the latest news and information, and telling you what their future [of your favorite school is] going to look like with these players coming in and starting next fall.”