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How to Make the Most of College GameDay’s Visit to JMU

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

If you haven’t heard by now, JMU is hosting ESPN’s College GameDay for a third time. That news came as a bit of a surprise to me, with Washington playing at Oregon State seemingly a slam-dunk option to host.

Instead, the show will travel to Harrisonburg, where JMU faithful are sure to turn out in the thousands. It should be a remarkable few days in Harrisonburg this weekend as the Dukes receive a major national spotlight. 

As someone who was a student during each of JMU’s previous two College GameDay visits (How lucky was I???), I wanted to share a few quick learning experiences/takeaways from my time attending the show/games as a student. 

And if you haven’t yet, JMU posted a rundown of important College GameDay information, The Breeze also wrote a great FAQ about GameDay coming to town. Both are resources worth checking out. 

Embrace the early week events

One of my favorite parts of College GameDay visiting in 2015 and 2017 were the events that took place days before the show started. The College GameDay bus arriving onto the Quad in the middle of the week drew a lively crowd, and it helped build the hype for the actual event. I loved the bus arrival, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Wednesday this year. 

ESPN also hosts shows on Friday from campus. This year, Pat McAfee hosts his show on the Quad from noon to 3 p.m. Curt Cignetti will join the show for the first hour, according to The Breeze. From 3:30-4 p.m. College Football Live will record its show live on the Quad. 

If you’re a student not in class (or planning on skipping class like I did back in the day), that’ll be an enjoyable few hours. Hanging out on the Quad with friends less than 24 hours before the main event begins is worthwhile, and you’ll probably have a better chance of getting on TV in the background of those shows than you will the actual GameDay broadcast. 

The early week events were a ton of fun in 2015 and 2017, and they’re arguably the most underrated part of a College GameDay week. 

The show can drag

Attending College GameDay is a unique experience. I cannot recommend going enough if you’re a student. 

But there’s a lot of standing around and doing nothing during the middle hours of the program. The entrance to the shows in 2015 and 2017 were electric, with fans going nuts as the show began promptly at 9 a.m. I’d expect the same this year. Being there for the start is absolutely worth it. 

Then, however, the next three hours go slowly. You can’t always hear what they’re saying on the show, which serves as a reminder that the show isn’t really for the JMU fans in attendance. It’s for college football fans at home and the fans in attendance enhance the TV product by creating a raucous atmosphere. 

Most segments on the show won’t focus on JMU. Some will! Some absolutely will. But the show isn’t only about JMU. The three hours can go by painfully slowly, especially if you’ve been on the Quad overnight or arrived really early in the morning. 

The finale, however, is worth the wait. Lee Corso making a headgear selection on your school’s campus? There’s nothing better. 

Just remember: the show is for TV viewers. 

I compare the GameDay experience to watching a golf tournament in person compared to on TV. On TV you can see all the action and easily stroll to another room for a drink/snack/coffee. It’s comfortable. If you’re physically attending a golf tournament, you’ll miss most of the action and there’s lots of down time between shots. It can feel a bit boring, honestly.  

The same is true for College GameDay. You’ll miss a lot of the show and the entertainment value comes from seeing the personalities live and watching the biggest moments (the intro and the ending) with your own eyes, rather than through a screen. The live concert Saturday should help make the three-hour lull a bit better, though. 

The Jonas Brothers didn’t perform in 2015 or 2017! They’re scheduled to perform at 11 a.m. this year. 

Camp out … or don’t!

I camped out in 2015, and I’m glad I did. I enjoyed myself because I spent time with close friends and embraced every aspect of College GameDay’s visit. 

On the flip side, I was cold and slept horribly. I was out of gas by the halfway point of the actual show. I know, I’m lame! 

I’m not sure you miss out on much if you bypass camping out. Even if you camp out, it’s still a bit of a challenge to be one of the 450 people in the pit. 

I can’t fault anyone for taking advantage of every single opportunity to enjoy College GameDay’s visit, but I don’t think camping on the Quad is a must for this weekend. I’d rank the bus arrival, intro to the show, the headgear selection, and the game itself well above camping out, in terms of what was most enjoyable and memorable from my 2015 and 2017 experiences. 

If you do camp out, bring more blankets than you think you’d need. I learned that lesson the hard way.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Three Notch’d Brewing for their advertising support this season.

It’s a special experience

College GameDay doesn’t visit non-Power Five venues often. Magically, it’s visiting JMU for the third time since 2015. That’s a TON of visits for a FCS/Group of Five school. 

If you’re a student or alumni, you should never expect College GameDay to come to your school. When it does, it’s a treat. When it doesn’t, it makes sense because there are plenty of other great college games and venues worth visiting each week. 

For any fan attending this weekend, whether you’re a JMU freshman or a 100-year-old alumni, enjoy it. ESPN is celebrating JMU’s tremendous season, and everyone should soak up what’s going to be a special weekend in Harrisonburg. These types of moments don’t come around often for Group of Five/mid-major fans.

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