Due to the game being canceled for cable telecast, the online broadcast of Wednesday’s Georgia Tech-North Carolina set a viewership record for a school-produced event on ESPN3, ESPN’s online outlet.
But the more remarkable part was that, on that icy day, the game was witnessed at all by anyone outside of McCamish Pavilion.
Like the rest of metro Atlanta, several Tech athletic department staff members were trapped by the ice. Most of the basketball staff slept overnight at the school Tuesday night, which is why everyone but coach Brian Gregory was dressed for the game in sweats. Sports information director Dean Buchan got stuck on I-285 and didn’t get home until late Wednesday morning, a 12-mile trip that took 19 hours.
The travel difficulties led to a day-long scramble to assemble enough game operations staff. When the day began, video operations director Andy Blanton was simply trying to make sure some sort of graphic could be run on the center-court video board. By game time, he was coordinating the in-house video and audio while sending the camera and audio feed to ESPN, running the show with the aid of three computers from his home in Paulding County, 26 miles away from Tech.
“I think probably what was most surreal was to be in constant contact with ESPN throughout the whole ordeal and the broadcast and to continuously receive just overwhelmingly positive feedback from their executives from their college basketball department,” Blanton said.
Wednesday was a day-long scramble for Blanton, as he was in constant contact with ESPN and Tech staff to see what could be done to put together some sort of broadcast. He first hoped he might have one camera operator for the center-court angle, just to have video for Brian Gregory coach’s show. He found one cameraman when he called a crew member who was first planning to shoot the Hawks game but became free after it was cancelled. He reached another who was shopping at Publix. Blanton’s appeal caused him to put his groceries back and head to McCamish Pavilion.
Sports medicine staffers volunteered to run the LED ribbon board. A colleague with Fellowship of Christian Athletes was recruited to run the public-address system and arena music. A member of Tech’s compliance department offered to operate one of the cameras.
“It was fun,” Blanton said. “The adrenaline kept us going through it.”
ESPN canceled the ESPN2 broadcast but was eager to take Tech’s in-house production for ESPN3. (Tech produces ESPN3 broadcasts for several of its nonconference basketball home games.) Tech voice Brandon Gaudin, who himself was without analyst Randy Waters and producer Miller Pope, provided the play-by-play.
At 5 p.m., two hours before tipoff, Blanton gave his volunteers a quick primer on their tasks via videophone. For an ESPN game, Blanton would normally have about 20 crew members for the network and also for in-house production. Wednesday, he had six. They pulled it off.
“It thrills me to see my folks that I work with go the extra mile,” Blanton said. “I work with a lot of really good people who care about Georgia Tech.”