CHARLOTTE — ESPNU has dubbed today as the first day of the 2013 college football season because, well, ESPN is that powerful.
The college programming network here will devote 11.5 hours of coverage to National Signing Day in its biggest annual special yet.
From 7:30 a.m. until 7 p.m., 18 of the top high school athletes will appear on the network, with 17 of them announcing their college destination live. The network also will have former SEC coaches Derek Dooley (Tennessee) and Gene Chizik (Auburn) in studio while placing reporters at 13 colleges to get reactions from some of the nation’s top coaches.
“In terms of what comes out of this building it’s the biggest day,” said Dan Margulis, ESPNU’s senior director of programming. “There are a lot of hours of studio, and we have some phenomenal games, but in terms of owning it from a company perspective, I would say this is the biggest. We really put our flag down on it.”
National Signing Day is ESPNU’s draft day. Most top recruits have given commitments to schools, and the only thing left is to sign a national letter of intent, the contract that binds a player to a college. But several high-profile players have yet to commit.
That’s what should make for an interesting day at ESPNU, which originally planned to start its coverage at 9 a.m. and have a 10-hour special. Executives decided to bump the special up by 90 minutes to fit in the nation’s top recruit, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Ga.
Nkemdiche, the consensus No.1 player in the country who originally committed to Clemson, has narrowed his list to LSU and Mississippi, and ESPNU will broadcast his choice at 7:30 a.m.
“We still had a lot we could do, and then the No.1 recruit in the nation decided that’s the time he wanted to sign, so it made sense,” Margulis said of the time change. “You can’t have a day like this and not have the No.1 recruit.”
Adjusting a day of programming that will involve about 120 staff members on site and nearly 200 in satellite trucks and colleges across the country might seem odd for one 18-year-old’s decision, but that’s the state of football recruiting.
Websites such as Rivals.com and Scout.com have become multimillion-dollar companies in the past decade, specializing in rating players, ranking recruiting classes and compiling highlight videos of the next brightest college star.
It’s that passion from college football fans eager to land the next five-star athlete that has grown the TV special from six hours in 2006 to 11.5 this year. ESPN national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said he’s not surprised by the growth.
“The medium now to where everyone has access to that information, we’re essentially a byproduct of that,” Luginbill said. “Fifteen or 20 years ago in recruiting there was no way of finding video. The only people who saw game tape were the coaches. Now it’s everybody.
“You can’t run from it, you can’t hide from it because it’s everywhere. It’s something people want to know more about because they’re fascinated.”