What I Learned as Part of the Staff of CFB College Gameday

I spent the past five months working as a production assistant for the crew of ESPN's Emmy-award-winning studio TV show College Gameday, despite the fact I grew up not particularly a fan of college football. It's safe to say I've become a fan of the sport, but more so the people who make the sport so special, like the incredible talent we have on our show and the wonderful coaches and players I got the chance to meet. I have interacted with and catered to probably more people over the past five months than I've even met before in my lifetime, and, shockingly, almost every one of them was nothing short of wonderful. I've grown in so many ways just as a result of so many new people coming into my life and leaving me with life lessons and advice without even knowing it.

I learned so much about real life during this football season that I cannot possibly recall everything that left an impact on me, but I'm going to try to outline the most important things. It's an intense job that demands a lot from all parties involved, but the result is breathtaking and makes every step along the way well worth it. Here are just a few life lessons I learned that I'll carry with me throughout my career, wherever it takes me.


1. Football games are long. This may seem obvious, but after extremely long days (or an endless series of extremely long days) a four-hour football game just seems to never end. Especially when you have no clue if your escape plan for talent is going to go smoothly. Doesn't help when the biggest games decide to go into overtime.

2. Even though the games are long, the season itself flies by. Sixteen weeks goes by in a flash, and each one of them was so unique and memorable in its own way.

Started my "Jordan" year during week 3, and the crew helped me celebrate with this delicious cake from  Sweets by Millie .

Started my "Jordan" year during week 3, and the crew helped me celebrate with this delicious cake from Sweets by Millie.

3. Attention to detail is crucial. I've had to juggle as many as 45 coffee orders at a time, making sure the perfect amount of cream is added to some and the individual details of certain flavored lattes don't get overlooked. If they're incorrect, they're not wanted, thus needing to be replaced. I've memorized so many coffee orders I'm convinced I could actually be a Starbucks barista (or Dunkin' Donuts employee, since Gameday seems to run on Dunkin' as much as they do Starbucks). Every aspect of this job requires attention to detail, from managing receipts and purchases to keeping track of who is staying at which of the countless hotels in the area. It's information overload, so it really tests your memory and your ability to juggle details.

The guys on set the morning of the Rose Bowl.

The guys on set the morning of the Rose Bowl.

4. I've become extremely resourceful, and as a result I've realized how beneficial that skill can be. They need certain things for the show to be the best it can be, and more often than not these things they need are not realized as necessary with any more notice before the show than a few hours. But we use our resourcefulness to make it happen, because the show must go on, just as they want it. I've been expected to jump into action with the absolute minimum explanation in regards to what I'm supposed to be doing. My navigational skills were put to the test as I had to find places all over every city we travelled to, even obscure spots that aren't clearly marked or available on Google Maps. There is definitely a learning curve to all of this, but the quicker you can make yourself resourceful as opposed to a burden, the more you will succeed in a fast-paced industry like this one.

5. Take the blame. Even if it’s not your fault. You’ll gain so much more respect in the long run if you don’t assign blame to others.

The Gameday bus pulling into site in Charlotte.

The Gameday bus pulling into site in Charlotte.

6. Make yourself memorable however you can. Spark interesting conversation, make jokes, and wear interesting (but always appropriate) clothes. My red and blue tribal Patagonia pullover got more compliments throughout this season than any piece of clothing I've ever owned. It was unique enough that security guards always remembered me when they saw me come back so no one ever questioned me or had to re-analyze my credentials. Same went for my Joie butterfly sweater and Skull Cashmere sweater (two of my faves). Also crucial is to make sure you get to know the people you are working with on a more personal level. It will help you love what you do and increase your chances of making beneficial connections later on. The car rides are so much more fun when there's interesting conversation going on. Plus, the people I work with are pretty cool, so I'm eternally grateful for every personal connection I've made. 


7. Ford Expeditions are the worst cars ever. If you book a Full-Size SUV and the rental car guy ever asks if a Ford is okay, the answer is always NO.

8. Don't underestimate the little guy. We traveled to some big-time football schools this year, like Ohio State, Miami, and Oklahoma State, just to name a few. While we had incredible turnouts at all these schools, arguably the best and most excited crowd was that at James Madison University, a curveball spot thrown at us just a few days in advance that left us all a bit confused. These students literally camped out and spent the night all over the quad, well beyond who could just fit inside the pit. These students treated Gameday like it was the greatest thing to ever happen to their college experience, and thus it was truly an unforgettable week, despite being at an FCS school.

9. Sometimes it’s necessary to abuse your power. I've had to pull the ESPN, Disney, Kirk Herbstreit, among other lines, so many times in order to skip lines, to park illegally, to get special treatment for something show-related, or even just to make friends with any restaurant or store employees that may be able to help us speed things along later down the road. Whatever it takes to GSD (get shit done). 

10. The Rose Bowl is probably the coolest sports venue I've ever seen. This game is most definitely worth the trip across the country for anyone debating going to see their team play there.

The view from the very top of the Rose Bowl Stadium.

The view from the very top of the Rose Bowl Stadium.

11. I've really learned how to organize and mainstream my life, thanks to becoming a small scale moving company. From Week 1, when we had chaotic and messy Husky bins containing our entire office content to Week 5, when I finally took the initiative to buy storage containers to efficiently pack and organize all of our materials, I learned the best ways to mobilize and pack in order to make the unpacking at the next location much easier. My memory skills were enhanced without even knowing it, because I was able to recall where every single item was packed the prior week, so anyone could call on me to find any single item they were seeking. When the time comes to move into my own house, I'll be more than prepared.

12. Fans come up with some pretty great signs. Definitely worth paying attention to.


13. People LOVE their football teams. I've never witnessed something bring people together in such a way that college football does. They travel from far and wide, they gather in groups, they tailgate, they scream and cheer, and they make memories, all surrounding a four-hour game. They come out in huge numbers in the rain and snow to watch our show, they wake up at ungodly hours to set up tailgates, and even stay up all night just watching the countdown until College Gameday goes live at 9 a.m. It's passion like I've never seen it before.

Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where it all began and ended.

Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where it all began and ended.

14. Every city or town has its own cool spots. We got to do a lot of exploring, both for work and pleasure (if we ever had the time) and I got to see some really cool parts of the country I'd never seen before. Don't just go on your business trips and rush through them in order to get home. Try and get out and enjoy the new places you're being sent to, or find cool new places in the cities you've already visited.

The view from above Pittsburgh. You can take a gondola up the Duquesne incline for an unforgettable cityscape view. We had one hour in Pittsburgh and this was what we chose to do. Highly recommend.

The view from above Pittsburgh. You can take a gondola up the Duquesne incline for an unforgettable cityscape view. We had one hour in Pittsburgh and this was what we chose to do. Highly recommend.

15. Your efforts will be noticed by someone. I know at such a low level it feels like you're constantly overlooked because you take care of the stuff no one sees, but trust me when I say people are noticing. They notice if you do a bad job at a particular task, but over time if things are always running smoothly and there are no issues, that will be rewarded and you will get credit for doing a good job.

16. James Madison University has the best blueberry muffins of all time.


17. Always go out with a bang. That's something College Gameday never fails at. In Times Square, we bended over backwards trying to get a Statue of Liberty costume for Lee Corso to wear in the last minute of the show (who would've thought there's a scarcity of Statue of Liberty costumes in NYC). I even had to paint his whole face green while he was off-camera. But the incredible bit at the end made all the fuss worth it. At Oklahoma State we ended the show with shotguns, so loud I thought we were under attack from all the way inside the office. And the season finale, a game that will surely go down in history, with Alabama's rookie QB throwing an incredible touchdown pass to win the national championship, the college football season went out with a bang, proving further that there's never a dull moment. Now that's showbiz.


In the words of our guy David Pollack, "I love football and I'm nuts!"

Tori BilasComment