UCSB IN THE NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT: ‘Big-time recruiting tool’
After being a mainstay on ESPN in the early 1990s as part of the network’s “Big Monday” package, UCSB has again been enjoying the spotlight on the Worldwide Leader in Sports recently — including Thursday night’s Big West men’s basketball showdown against UC Irvine broadcast on ESPNU.
Two men’s games were broadcast ESPN3 earlier this year (@ Long Beach St. and @ Rice) and the university has three more games scheduled to be broadcast by ESPN this season – including another home game against UC Davis Feb. 9.
The university promotes the broadcast as a recruiting tool for both the basketball program and the campus as a whole. Several UCSB promotions were expected to air during the telecast, and the university’s marketing department makes a strong push to get large crowds at the game.
“It’s a big-time recruiting tool to be on TV and to have a good crowd,” said Bill Mahoney, associate athletics director of communications for UCSB.
There was quite a buzz in and around Isla Vista Thursday afternoon prior to the game The first 1,000 students that entered the game were given dice as a promotion for the game, which was pushed back to 8 p.m. to accommodate ESPNU.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we want to have our best crowds when we’re on ESPN,” Mahoney said. “The students will come out when they see the TV truck.”
The campus has been no stranger to ESPN in recent months. In December, the university was selected to host the College Cup Men’s Soccer National Championship. Both the semis and finals were broadcast live from Harder Stadium on ESPNU.
In a statement to the News-Press, UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang said the school is thrilled to have ESPN televise the men’s game, which gives well-deserved recognition to the success and competitiveness of this year’s team.
UCSB came into the game with a 15-4 overall record and is 4-1 in the conference, one game behind Irvine.
“This national broadcast, similar to the coverage our campus enjoyed of the College Cup last month, provides an exciting opportunity for our student-athletes, our students, and our fans,” Chancellor Yang said.
The broadcast will serve as a way for the campus to show off its new state of the art video board, believed to be the first of its kind in the conference.
The video board was in the works before ESPN came calling, and Mr. Mahoney said it has really transformed the viewing experience for all who attend. It is used for all athletic events at the Thunderdome.
The 50-foot by 15-foot board is located at the southwest end of the area and is believed to be the first 4K Ultra High Definition screen on the west coast, according to UCSB Director of Athletics John McCutcheon.
The first time the men’s team appeared on ESPN was the 1988-1989 season. While the conference was driven by the success of UNLV in the late 80s and early 90s, UCSB and Long Beach State appeared on the network as much as any other school in the conference, Mr. Mahoney said.
For a time, the Gauchos 78-70 victory over UNLV in 1990 was the highest-rated midnight EST game broadcast game on the network. The Runnin’ Rebels would go on to win 31 games in a row, including the NCAA Title, and entered the conversation as the greatest college team of all time.
Coached by the late Jerry Tarkanian, the squad included five future NBA players, including Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony.
Back then, ESPN was the only outlet broadcasting games, which brought even more notoriety to the campus.
“It was the only outlet,” Mr. Mahoney said. “There weren’t all these other networks. If you were on ESPN you were the only thing on.”
During those days, ESPN production staff considered the Thunderdome one of the top venues in the country in terms of crowd atmosphere.
“Times have changed, but we had an incredible student crowd in the late 80s and early 90s,” Mr. Mahoney said.
“We were easily one of the best on the west coast.”
These days, the Big West has a package with ESPN and the network selects various “wildcard” games to broadcast as the season unfolds.
The university learned about Thursday’s game in early January and were informed of the other broadcasts late last week.
Eric Hebert, producer for ESPN, told the News-Press the Thunderdome is one of the top venues in the Big West. The ESPN crew spent about six hours on Wednesday setting everything up.
Mr. Mahoney and Bob Brontsema, assistant athletics director and events, facilities and operations coordinator, assist in the production of the game.
“It’s hard to quantify but it definitely adds to the workload,” Mr. Mahoney said when asked how many hours go into the production work.
“But the payoff is substantial.”