Early Sunday morning, Big Sky Conference commissioner Tom Wistrcill received a text message that was over a year in the making. A contact of his at ESPN had reached out informing him that College GameDay, the network's marquee college football pregame show, had chosen Bozeman, MT as their destination for this weekend's broadcast.
The news was not only a major payoff for weeks of campaigning on social media, but it was a landmark moment for the league and the show itself. Never before has GameDay broadcasted from a Big Sky campus, but this Saturday that will change when they go live from Montana State University before the annual "Brawl of the Wild" showdown between #3 Montana State and #13 Montana.
"It’s huge,” Wistrcill told Underdog Dynasty. “There’s really no way to overstate it.”
GameDay, which typically airs from the site of major FBS games, passed up on an opportunity to see the vaunted FCS rivalry last year when the game was held in Missoula, but couldn’t say no twice in a row when presented with the same decision. That is thanks, in large part, to what Wistrcill and his team have done over the last year.
“We tried to get it last year but it didn’t quite happen,” he said. “Their feedback to us then was to just keep after it. They told us to keep being creative on social media and to get people talking about it. That was the most important thing."
Wistrcill and his staff heeded that advice and pulled no punches in trying to capture the attention of ESPN’s execs. From posts on social media of himself dressing up in Home Depot gear (GameDay’s primary sponsor) to photoshopped images of Reece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit and other hosts of the show on rodeo horses, the Big Sky tried it all. Wistrcill even admitted that his office hired a theater troop from the University of Hartford (one of the Big Sky’s affiliate members in men’s golf) to go to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, CT to protest for GameDay.
Some dedicated Big Sky fans visited Bristol, CT this week— Big Sky Conference (@BigSkyConf) October 20, 2022
C’mon @CollegeGameDay where y’all at? #ExperienceElevated pic.twitter.com/ricO3LCSn5
“This is the culmination of a lot of people’s work,” he acknowledged. “We have some really creative folks in our offices who have worked really hard for the last 16 months to make this happen.”
GameDay will be making its second trek to an FCS school this season. It is the first time since 2014 that the program has visited multiple FCS sites in the same year, having gone to Jackson State back in October earlier this fall.
“They’re coming to one of the best rivalries in college football,” Wistrcill said. “Nobody really understands the scale of this rivalry until they’re a part of it.”
While the event itself is going to be monumental for Montana State University, Wistrcill knows it will require a tremendous amount of work on the part of campus leadership to prepare for Saturday.
"Logistically there’s so much work to do. Trucks started arriving yesterday, today and will tomorrow. ESPN does live shots for the show on Friday and even some on Thursday night,” he added. “It will certainly be a lot of problem solving for the MSU staffers.”
In spite of all that’s required and in spite of even the weather, he is confident that the school... and the state of Montana... will make it all worth while.
“I think [GameDay] will be pleasantly surprised with the response and the turnout,” he said. “I fully expect it to be an MSU heavy crowd but I also think you’re going to have a lot of Montana Grizzlies fans show up too and that’ll be fun... the fans have to get there early because it’s going to fill up quickly.”
Wistrcill said that the expected cold temperature was not a worry for either himself nor ESPN.
“They’re going to be ready,” he said simply. “That’s part of the story when you play in the Big Sky, you’re going to have to deal with the weather. That was never part of our discussions with them (ESPN), though.”
The expected temperature when GameDay goes on air is two degrees farenheit, but cold weather won’t spoil this party that’s been a year-long wait and Wistrcill is ready to put his conference on full display at last.
“It elevates everything to a new level and it’s only going to enhance our brand for the better. We have a great partnership with ESPN and this can only grow it.”
Wistrcill concluded simply by stressing how rare and meaningful this is for a place like Montana and the Big Sky.
"Obviously it’s a big deal whenever your school gets it” he said. “But no one appreciates it more than people who don’t typically get it. You don’t want to say ‘once in a lifetime’ but it certainly may be a ‘once in a career’ thing for someone like me.”
Catch GameDay on ESPN at 9:00 AM (ET) this Saturday with Montana State and Montana kicking off at 2:00 PM (ET) streaming on ESPN+.