James Madison University estimated that 12,000 people attended ESPN’s “College GameDay,” a popular Saturday morning college football preview show, when it originated from the school on Oct. 24, 2015.
Madison is expecting more than 12,000 when “College GameDay” returns to JMU’s quad Saturday, from 9 a.m. to noon. The Dukes host Villanova at 3:30 p.m.
The primary exposure for JMU in 2015 came through the TV audience of about 66 million (the school’s approximation), who saw Dukes’ logos, and heard discussion of JMU and that day’s opponent, Richmond. JMU conducted a study that determined “College GameDay” brought an overall media value of about $3.6 million to the school.
“It changed the game for how the outside world views James Madison University, and it helps us immensely in our push to make JMU a nationally relevant university,” said Jeff Bourne, the Dukes athletics director since 1999.
Defending national champion JMU (5-0, 2-0 CAA) hasn’t lost since falling 56-28 at North Carolina on Sept. 17 last year. The Dukes, winners of 17 straight, are ranked No. 1 in the STATS FCS poll, and Villanova (4-2, 2-1 CAA) is ranked No. 11.
“We’re the second fiddle, I guess, but it’s great publicity for Villanova and Villanova football,” said VU coach Mark Ferrante.
JMU coach Mike Houston recognized “College GameDay” as a special event that will be enjoyed by alumni and fans. Neither coach intended to change his game-day routine. Players are unlikely to be involved in “College GameDay.”
Two years ago, when “College GameDay” advanced the Richmond-at-Madison CAA showdown, JMU was 7-0 and ranked No. 4 in the FCS. Richmond, ranked No. 11, beat the Dukes 59-49 before a record crowd of 26,069 at Bridgeforth Stadium on homecoming. The teams totaled 1,305 yards and 60 first downs. They combined to convert 21 of 29 third-down opportunities.
There was general agreement that when JMU hosted “College GameDay,” typically reserved for FBS schools, ESPN’s presence in Harrisonburg helped the FCS, and, in particular, the CAA. The dramatic game’s back-and-forth, wide-open form increased the attention.
“It was extraordinary in terms of the impact that I think (the day) had for FCS football, and for our league, and then maybe for (UR),” said Danny Rocco, the Delaware coach who led Richmond’s program the last five years. “We happened to be the team that stole the show that day. That’s awesome. But it was bigger than that.”
Russ Huesman, Rocco’s successor at Richmond, said “College GameDay” helps the Dukes in significant ways, but Huesman feels the ESPN wave of exposure doesn’t lift all CAA teams.
“It’s nice to see and I’m sure James Madison is really excited to do it again. But if you’re asking me does it help us, I’d say it helps them. It doesn’t help us,” said Huesman. “It helps them in recruiting. It helps them in a lot of capacities. Does it help us? No. Helps them.”
If Villanova-at-JMU turns out to be a high-scoring game, top-ranked Madison would appear to have a major advantage. Villanova, which leads with its defense, will start redshirt freshman Jack Schetelich at quarterback after losing junior Zach Bednarczyk to a knee injury on Sept. 30.