BATON ROUGE – Right at 5 p.m. CT on Thursday (how can you forget it is 8-14-14), the picture will come up on the channels carrying the SEC Network. By 5:01 p.m., things regarding Southeastern Conference broadcasts of all sports in the league may never be the same.
It will be a moment that league officials in cooperation with ESPN have longed look forward to and the culmination of time and effort by the 14-schools in the league that will be a vital part of the broadcast success of live sports events on both the over-the-air SEC Network and an SEC Network+ (digital online) flurry of games in all sports.
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“Across the board, there is a strong sense of excitement from everyone in the league,” said LSU Senior Associate Athletics Director Eddie Nunez. “All the administrators that have been working on this project understand the benefits of what it can do not just for each individual school, but for the conference and the student-athletes. The most important piece of the puzzle is the opportunity to really continue to have our conference showcased at the highest level.”
That showcase begins from the moment the network comes on the air in some 90-million-plus homes when its flagship news and information show “SEC Now” airs live from all 14 SEC campuses. Sports of all seasons will be showcased in the three-hour special sharing the passion, beauty and treasure trove of champions in the Southeastern Conference.
Notable figures on and off the field, lent their voices in an opening essay that speaks to the tradition, pageantry and storied history of the SEC. Peyton, Eli and Archie Manning, Shaquille O'Neal, Dara Torres and Joe Namath are among the 31 voices that will ring for the SEC. Their words will be the first etched in SEC Network history. They will be expanded upon over the course of the show - and the year ahead - by a talented pool of SEC Network commentators, 15 of which are involved in the opening show. In total, the premiere night will include 21 anchors, reporters and analysts in studio and reporting live from campuses.
The show will feature a diversity of sports coverage, a host of SEC Network experts, high-end features, behind-the-scenes access and sit-down interviews - backbone elements for the regularly schedule SEC Now show.
Hosts Dari Nowkhah and Maria Taylor will anchor the first live show from the network's Charlotte, N.C., studios. They will be joined by broadcasting legend Brent Musburger as well as Paul Finebaum, Greg McElroy and former LSU football star Booger McFarland.
Analysts, reporters and even a SportsCenter anchor will be dispersed and reporting live from the following SEC locations: Marcus Spears (Alabama), Niki Noto (Arkansas), Rece Davis (Auburn), Joe Tessitore (Florida), Tim Tebow (Florida), Matt Stinchcomb (Georgia), Laura Rutledge (Kentucky), Peter Burns (LSU), Ben McDonald (LSU), Tony Barnhart (Mississippi State), John Anderson (Missouri), Kaylee Hartung (Ole Miss), Shannon Spake (South Carolina), Ryan McGee (Tennessee), Kayce Smith (Texas A&M) and Jessica Mendoza (Vanderbilt) will host from sites at the 14 schools.
Included in the show will be live look-ins and highlights from in-progress soccer matches UAB at Vanderbilt and Creighton at Arkansas; plus sit down interviews with coaches that represent 10 total championships, including five defending championship coaches from within the SEC's 21-sponsored sports.
SEC Now will be immediately followed with the SEC Storied debut of "The Stars are Aligned" at 9 p.m.
Work has progressed in the past weeks to change the fifth-floor television section of the Moran Athletic Building to make room for not one, but two brand new control rooms and much of the necessary equipment to put on a network quality broadcast continues to arrive every day on the floor.
“The changes brought about by the SEC Network didn’t replace the things we were already doing, they were added,” said Kevin Wagner, Assistant AD for Television Operations. "We are going through a process where we are bringing all our television facilities up to ESPN required standards. All 14 schools were at different places in this process. We were probably further advanced than most. But all 14 schools are going through some sort of renovation.
“From a control room standpoint,” Wagner, a former Tiger diver, who has been involved with the television operation and producer of LSU coaches shows for 25 years said, “we had one television control room and in that control room we controlled the video boards in Tiger Stadium, the Maravich Center and Alex Box Stadium. Now what we’ve done is torn everything out, purchased new equipment and we are now turning our single control room into two separate control rooms.”
The process is all part of the two-prong setup of the SEC Network that will feature the games chosen by the network and the league office to appear on the cable and satellite companies carrying the programming; and, a secondary aspect on an ESPN3/SEC Network app that will carry a minimum of 40 events chosen by ESPN and the SEC that will be produced by each school using the ESPN and SEC Network standards.
“I don’t know if America understands how strong the SEC is as a whole,” Nunez said of the sports the league sponsors. “Being able to showcase a conference that excels nationally in every sport is important.”
Nunez and Wagner know that the league and the schools will go through a learning curve as the Network begins. But both know that as time goes on there will be more and more opportunities to showcase the games and the teams of the league schools.
In that regard, LSU has made a significant investment to give Tiger fans the best opportunity to showcase the teams, the student-athletes, the venues and the passion of LSU fans. “We see it as an investment that will pay dividends for years to come,” Nunez said.