A few minutes with … ESPN’s Chris Fowler

A few days ago, I got an e-mail out of the blue from an ESPN publicist. She said she saw my blog post last week about how the city of Manhattan was catching “College Gameday” fever, and that Chris Fowler was interested in speaking with me.

As the longtime host of one of ESPN’s most popular shows, Fowler can offer insight into “Gameday’s” decision to head to Southern California this week for its game against Stanford when it appeared destined for Manhattan. So, I told her to have him give me a call.

The first thing he said to me today was, “I’ve heard from a lot of angry K-State people. Maybe I can explain our decision a little bit.”

We’ll go into Q&A form the rest of the way, though Fowler did most of the talking.

Why don’t we just start there with that request. What explanation would you like to offer those K-State fans?

We were disappointed. Obviously Oklahoma and Kansas State had been No. 1 on our grid for a few weeks, and the hype was building. We fully expected the Wildcats to take care of the Jayhawks and the Sooners to win. It was almost a foregone conclusion. And we’re sitting in the bus last Saturday night in disbelief, watching Oklahoma fall. When that happens, it forces you to hastily reconsider.

We don’t ever pick the “Gameday” sites until the results of the previous Saturday are in. There is no upside to doing that. Through the years we have had plenty of last-minute changes in location due to upsets. It seems to happen a lot in the Big 12. I can remember times when we were supposed to be at Texas A&M but they lost to Baylor. It happens from time to time.

This one, though, was among the most surprising. I mean, we were there. We had the location. The director of the show had been there. We had looked at locations for the set. We were set to go. But when you lose the angle of having a top 5 team, unbeaten, on the road. The game nationally takes a hit.

Now, nobody on the set makes the decision. That is handled at a management level. We are no longer given much input. But based on what happened, the idea of Stanford against a USC team that not many expected to beat Notre Dame looked pretty good.

That’s the other thing that had to happen. If USC loses to Notre Dame we’re still at Manhattan, probably, because it would still be the best game. But when you have a USC team looking dangerous coming in with momentum and Stanford moving up thanks to some other upsets I think that sort of outweighed that game.

Is that where the thought process ended? Or did you take more into consideration, like fan reaction and story appeal?

Well, we know the scene and the backdrop of the show, which is one component that goes into the decision – not the biggest one, but one of them – would be a hell of a lot better in Manhattan than outside the Coliseum. We’ve been there before. It’s been 10 years, but we have some good memories there. We were there in 98 when they beat Nebraska and it was pandemonium. We were there in 01 when Oklahoma came in. So it’s been a while, but the crowd was very enthusiastic and loved it.

It’s honestly one of those things where we are disappointed, too.

People here were let down by the decision, as you know. But what is it like to deal with a fan base when they are that disappointed?

It means they care. It means that “Gameday” is important to them, so it’s flattering. I’ve heard from a lot of angry K-State fans on Twitter. I don’t expect fans to be logical and rational. I expect fans to do things you do on whims. That’s why they are fans. But I don’t like it when we get accused of having agendas or hidden reasons behind the choice and being “haters.” Then they’re just not making sense.

We don’t have an agenda to favor one conference over another conference. We’ve been in the Big 12 plenty of times. We’ll go to the Big 12 plenty more times. We don’t have any business angles here. We’re not favoring one network over the other or anything like that. Those things never came into question.

It was just one of those things where this week Oklahoma falling in the ranks of national title contenders hurt. K-State, by winning, could jump into that conversation, but they are a two-touchdown underdog. You know what I mean? I think Stanford is just seen as a stronger national champion contender at this point.

There is just a general lack of understanding about how these things work. There is more to it than just the home team. K-State is a much better and more compelling story than USC as a home team, but the road team goes into it as well. If you look into the history of “Gameday” locations, we rarely go to a place with the road team coming off a loss. It’s happened, but not this year and not very often and not after such a stunning loss the week before.

One thing people here were curious about was how “Gameday” already being at two Oklahoma games impacted the decision to go elsewhere. Was that a major factor?

It didn’t help. We had seen them twice, then they come off a loss. We don’t really sit around and think about who we would like to see. But it didn’t help. Oklahoma was a big part of the attraction to that game. Let’s not kid ourselves. K-State would have provided a great backdrop and tremendous story for us, but a big part of the story was Oklahoma’s national title quest. Until they lose to Texas Tech, they control their destiny. That’s why we had seen them two times.

If Oklahoma would have beaten Texas Tech, would “Gameday” be setting up in Manhattan as we speak?

Absolutely. If Oklahoma wins, 100 percent. They were on the top of our list. To take you back a few weeks, K-State/Oklahoma was on the top of our list with Georgia Tech/Clemson. Those were the two games we could promote as battle of unbeatens that day. Georgia Tech lost so that knocked them off. K-State/Oklahoma was far and away our leading game. But again, a result as stunning as a team losing a 39-game home winning streak, no one in the world expected them to lose that game.

That’s one of the more stunning detours we’ve ever taken. Still, if USC hadn’t beaten Notre Dame, there’s no way we’re at the Coliseum. Zero-percent chance. By default, we probably would have gone back to K-State, even with Oklahoma’s diminished stature. It’s certainly nothing against K-State, but we have to go where the story is.

Oklahoma being knocked off and Landry Jones and his Heisman Trophy chances basically being destroyed, all those things happen and it changes. Then with all the buzz around Andrew Luck, Stanford’s rise and USC looking a hell of a lot better than they did two weeks ago, all of a sudden that game comes up. It was an incredible surprise.

Well, let me ask you this …

We’re going to do a lot about K-State this week. They’re a team we’ve followed a lot, and we’re doing a lot on that game. We’ll have a feature on Bill Snyder. We haven’t announced it yet, but there will be another segment of the show that K-State fans will be really excited about. I can’t tell you anything more about it right now, but we’re going to get the game plenty of play and coverage.

I know it’s disappointing we aren’t out there, but K-State is a team we’ve been on since they beat Miami. That was a real attention-getter. We’ve talked a lot about their games in the last few weeks. We’ve talked a lot about Collin Klein and Bill Snyder.

Do you see any other K-State games being a contender for future “Gameday” locations?

If they keep winning it’s always possible. Let’s say they win here and go to Stillwater, well we’re already going to the latest Game of the Century with LSU and Alabama. With them having a bye, I feel comfortable saying that is where we are going to be. That’s kind of a big deal. But if K-State wins Saturday, it’s a shame we wouldn’t be there in Stillwater. We’d still cover the hell out of it, but we will be at LSU/Alabama.

Tell me some others. What’s the best remaining home game?

Texas A&M comes to Manhattan a week after the Oklahoma State game.

I’ll tell you what: The only other game competing with that that week would be Stanford at Oregon. If K-State gets through these two games, I can promise you they will get massive consideration. They would be ranked in the top 5 at that point. Maybe even third in the country. Those are two equation-changers. I don’t think there is anyone in our booth who is predicting them to survive that gauntlet, but if Kansas State is unbeaten coming through those two games they would be a story that would be pretty hard to ignore.

Again, I don’t make the decisions. And Texas A&M can’t stumble and lose every game between now and then, but that would be a great story. Kansas State, even if it only wins one of its next two would be an amazing story. That’s a team we really admire. We admire how they won. It’s a roster that isn’t loaded the way some of those teams in the 90s were. We frequently express how they’ve done it without five-star recruits. It’s a great job by Snyder and that’s why we’re doing a story on him this week. It’s almost an unprecedented story. I can’t think of a parallel to it in the modern era. Normally those second chapters don’t go so well.

We’ve talked a lot about Klein and I think they are a team that has been covered. I don’t think we’ve been ignorant of the story as it’s developed. Again, we would have liked to salute it by being there. I’m just here to tell you how it came about.

Anything else you want to add before you go?

We still would have liked to have been there. I want to get that across. We were very surprised, and were looking forward to the trip. Let me say this: Win two games, and, I’m stopping short of guaranteeing it, because I don’t have the authority to do that, but that would be a monster, monster story – K-State undefeated against Texas A&M.