Oklahoma’s Sooner Schooner let ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew borrow its typical game-day home for a few hours on Saturday.
For the first time since 2012, the college football pregame show visited Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for Bedlam’s first prime-time showdown in Norman.
While the show has kept its on-location roots amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there wasn’t a large crowd, holding homemade signs high for network television to capture, behind the panelists as they previewed Saturday’s action.
Instead, Desmond Howard, Rece Davis, David Pollack and Kirk Herbstreit played to an empty stadium in the northeast corner of Owen Field. The Sooner Schooner, accompanied by OU’s RUF/NEKS, was at least on hand to provide a few spectators.
It still doesn’t compare to the show’s usual backdrop, which highlights all of college football’s pageantry on television monitors each Saturday morning.
It’s been a different experience for “College GameDay” coordinating producer Drew Gallagher, who says the show’s taken to a new motto this season — “improve and adjust.”
It’s a fitting title as something a college football coach might tell their players. But in the era of last-minute game cancellations and rosters unexpectedly depleted due to the coronavirus, the crew has had to chuck the show’s format that fans have come to know over the past few decades and adapt on a weekly basis.
“Every week, you just don't know what curveballs could be thrown your way,” Gallagher said. “But thankfully, we've got the best crew in the business, on air and behind the scenes, that they're talented enough to be able to handle anything thrown at them. ... Basically, our whole workflow of the show got turned upside down due to COVID.”
Gallagher, who oversees the program’s editorial content and long-term planning, has found new creative avenues amid the pandemic.
Lee Corso, one of the on-air faces known for his mascot headwear antics, hasn’t traveled with the crew this season. He’s still prominently featured on “College GameDay,” often taping his segments ahead of time.
The show has also turned to Zoom video calls, along with the rest of the world, to conduct interviews with coaches and players, as well as host a guest picker — former OU basketball star Trae Young had the honor on Saturday.
The crew still misses the age of not doing everything remotely.
Gallagher said the program misses its crowd, especially for their honesty.
“The crowd gives them such an instantaneous jolt of energy or instantaneous feedback on a comment they might make,” Gallagher said. “When talking Bedlam on Saturday, if they make a comment that's critical about OU, they're used to hearing some boos or cheers or whatever it might be. And they feed off of that.”
The show hopes it can return to that soon.
For now, they’re making the best of its situation amid a strange year for everyone involved in the sport.