“Big Noon Kickoff” had three options for Week 12.
Fox’s on-campus college football show was going to Michigan at Maryland, Texas at Iowa State or Rutgers at Penn State.
Results over the past two weeks — Iowa State’s loss to Kansas, the Terps’ walk-off win over Nebraska, the Wolverines’ takedown of the Nittany Lions — along with the sign-stealing controversy and resulting suspension of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh — helped producers make the decision to head to College Park.
It’s the first appearance on the program for the Terps, who are famously one of a dwindling group of football teams that has never hosted the more famous on-campus pregame show, ESPN’s “College GameDay.”
“Big Noon Kickoff,” which launched in the 2019 season, identifies its locations for the first few weeks in late spring. After that, decisions are made based on the outcomes every week in the volatile college football season.
“Any given Saturday, right?” said Rob Mikulicka, Fox Sports’ director of remote studio operations.
The Terps were what Mikulicka caled a “six-day pick,” one made six days in advance, but it was also a game Fox had been eyeing since the preseason.
“Usually, from about Week 6 on, I’m looking at three different scenarios. ... This game was one of the originals of this week, which is rare to get to Week 12 and have something actually still sticking,” Mikulicka said.
Once Fox made the selection, the network got to work. The site for the show had been decided. Mikulicka visited the University of Maryland in June — he usually goes to multiple campuses in spring or early summer — and settled on La Plata Beach in North Campus, which checked many of his boxes. The large, flat area can accommodate a large group, is right next to SECU Stadium’s student entrance, has parking for Fox’s TV trucks and even has the right positioning relative to the sun to ensure proper lighting.
“One of the big ones is proximity to the stadium,” he said. “Whereas ‘College GameDay’ has the luxury of maybe going somewhere in the middle of campus, our show leads into our noon game, so we have to move our talent at about an hour and 15 minutes into the broadcast. They go from the outside set to our inside set. We can’t make that be a 20-minute process.”
On Monday, Fox laid pads on the ground and turf over them to give cushion for heavy equipment. The next day, stage construction began. Wednesday was dedicated to hanging light fixtures, laying flooring, building the desk and other elements.
By Thursday, cables crisscrossed the entire area as cameras and audio equipment were set up. The show’s panel, which includes former Heisman Trophy winners Mark Ingram and Matt Leinart, and three-time national champion coach Urban Meyer, comes in for a rehearsal Friday.
And everything gets taken down by Sunday to do it all again.
The operation has evolved. Mikulicka highlighted the DJ booth — one that’s grown from a folding table on the side of the stage to a legitimate separate structure — as one of his favorite elements.
He also noted the hinges on massive LED screens on both sides of the stage, allowing them to swing inward. The design came out of necessity.
One of “Big Noon Kickoff”s first shows came in Dallas for the Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma. To get the stage in a prime location during the Texas State Fair, Fox had to make sure the screens could swing in to allow the fair to move around its setup.
Meyer said a small football field in front of the stage is one of his favorite elements of the set.
“What we try to do is celebrate the game, but also try to teach. So that’s an opportunity for us to get down there,” he said. “I’ve heard people tell us they love our show because it’s not just talking about the game. We teach a part of the game that maybe people don’t know.”
“Big Noon Kickoff” is trying to differentiate itself from “College GameDay,” which is in Year 30 of traveling to campuses across the country, Mikulicka said. The show has games and giveaways to get the audience involved.
“They’re the granddaddy of it all, of course, but nobody really competed with them for all those years,” he said. “Ours is a little bit more of a party that has a pre-show in the background.”