By Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ATLANTA – Craig Silver is CBS Sports’ Coordinating Producer for College Football and will on Saturday produce his 12th Southeastern Conference Championship Game from the Georgia Dome when Alabama and Georgia square off at 4 p.m. ET.
Silver sat down with the SEC Digital Network on Friday to discuss some of the behind-the-scenes components to the CBS broadcast of the SEC Championship Game and a number of other topics in this SEC Q&A.
SEC Digital Network: When does your preparation for the SEC Championship Game begin and how does it differ from the weekly SEC on CBS game?
Craig Silver: “The preparation for this game begins on Labor Day. Just by the uniqueness of our relationship with the conference, we obviously cover the SEC, so every week is a build up to this championship game. On some levels, the preparation for this game is actually easier than for a mid-season game because we’ve covered both of these teams multiple times. We’ve had Alabama two out of the last three weeks. We haven’t seen Georgia since the end of October. From that end, it’s actually a little bit easier. We know all the storylines, we’ve gathered a lot of the video tape and it’s more of making some adjustments as opposed to starting from scratch.”
SEC Digital Network: How have you seen the SEC Championship Game grow over the years CBS has broadcast it and how has that altered what you have done from a production standpoint?
Craig Silver: “This game is unique because it was the first one and, to me, it’s unique in that the location here in Atlanta allows the fans to get here. They get tickets, they get here and the passion that you see inside the Dome on championship Saturday is the same passion that you see the other 13 or 14 weeks of the season whereas some of these bowl games, you don’t necessarily get that feeling. The game has evolved just as the league has evolved where the last six years and now this year, it is essentially a national semifinal. As a group, we try not to lose sight of the fact that, yes, the winner in most cases and certainly recently goes on to play for the national championship and that’s really important, but forever and always, they will play for the title of SEC Champion.”
SEC Digital Network: Outside of the traditional Xs and Os, what are some of the storylines that CBS looks to focus on during the SEC Championship Game?
Craig Silver: “That’s probably where things are a little bit different than a normal regular-season game. With the stakes involved for this Alabama-Georgia game, probably a lot of those other texture stories won’t be as prominent. This game is going to be about the plays and the Xs and the Os, and why one team is winning and one team is losing. Of course, we will still have a fringe of all the things that ice the cake, if you will, and we’ll do a little do a piece on the SEC Legends, because that’s part of the culture and texture of this game. This game, we’re concentrating almost exclusively on the game.”
SEC Digital Network: What have the ratings been like for the SEC Championship Game and what do you expect on Saturday?
Craig Silver: “I’m not the ratings expert, but what we have seen is when we tried doing this game once or twice in primetime – and it did fine – but it actually does better in the afternoon. It’s not a standalone, but it’s a standalone in the afternoon in that it’s the only game of prominence on. The ratings have been very much in line with our upper echelon games, other than our big primetime games, in the mid 5s up to the mid 7s. I would expect this particular game, and I’m just guessing based on the stakes and the prominence of the two teams – not just their records and their rankings, but their historical significance – if this game is close going into the fourth quarter, I think we could see potentially a double-digit rating.”
SEC Digital Network: What does the preparation for this game entail once your crew arrives in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game?
Craig Silver: “Our preparation, both from a production and technical standpoint, is similar to the teams themselves. From a technical standpoint, we have to get things set up. This is a good building to work in on a lot of levels. It can be better to work in than some of the on-site stadiums because, even though it’s 20 years old, it’s still relatively new, whereas at some of these places, the buildings are 70-80-90 years old, so this is an easy building to work in. This year, we had a bit of a challenge because of the NFL conflict [on Thursday night], but we were able to work around that. From a production standpoint, we are working all week building graphics and video tapes based on the storylines that we think we’ll be following. We’ll meet with the coaches and a couple of the players during our walkthroughs to get our last-minute details. The thing that we emphasize as a group is, just like the teams, we build a game plan. But, we are prepared to rip the game plan up to make sure that we’re uncovering the game that is unfolding in front of us, not the game that we have in our heads. I think that’s actually one of the strengths of my group and my announcers that we really do a great job of reacting to what’s in front of us; all that comes back to your game planning and really being ready for any eventuality. A big storyline, for example, for Alabama would be the wide receiver situation. Are they going to burn the red-shirt on this kid Chris Black and, if they do, how effective can he be? Yes, he’s been practicing and I know he’s a talented player, but he hasn’t played in a game, and now he’s playing in a game with the most significant consequences. That’s just one example of a secondary storyline that could become a very prominent storyline.”
SEC Digital Network: What does your announce team of Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson and Tracy Wolfson bring to the broadcast, especially with their familiarly and years of experience with the SEC?
Craig Silver: “I keep emphasizing the point that we’re the third team on the field. Just like Alabama has a group of veterans and Georgia has a group of veterans, I’ve been with these guys – Verne, Gary and Tracy – for a long time. We know each other’s moves, so when there’s a certain strategic situation, for the most part, I know what Gary likes to look for and, when the play happens, what he likes to see back. He also has the ability to talk to me in the truck as things are going on without being heard over the air to tell me to isolate a certain guy or do something like that. Remember, he’s a former pro quarterback, he’s been doing television for 20 years, he studies tapes like the coaches do. He’s going to see a formation and he may instantly recognize, for example, they are going to go to the tight end down the seam, let’s make sure we have the tight end iso’d, which is not necessarily something that I would have done in that situation. It’s a team effort. We’re always trying to project a play ahead, a couple plays ahead, so Verne can tie together the narrative, both the storytelling and his play-by-play. Tracy is contributing from the sidelines. Most of her stuff is real-time reporting, although, of course, we go into the game with a couple of ancillary stories, one of which for this game would be the relationship between Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who obviously played together at Georgia and are long-time friends. I think our greatest strength is our ability to work as a team, know each other’s moves and react to the game in front of us.”
SEC Digital Network: CBS has involvement in the SEC Championship trophy presentation; what are the logistics for your participation in that presentation?
Craig Silver: “The logistics aren’t very difficult. The game ends and we will capture the live scene and the live emotion, Tracy will get her normal end-of-game interviews and the timing actually works out very well. We get to our break, throw to our post-game show and they do about four or five minutes of content and commercials, and that’s exactly the same amount of time it takes the SEC to get the stage set. Once they’re ready to go, we get it back out there and, we’ve been doing the trophy presentation now for four or five years and, in my opinion, it’s one of the better ones you see on TV because it’s short, it’s sweet and captures the right emotion.”
SEC Digital Network: Unlike what you do during the regular season, CBS brings its pre-game and post-game shows on site to the Georgia Dome; what does that add to your SEC Championship Game broadcast?
Craig Silver: “I just think it gives a sense of how important the game is. Obviously, we’re not at every single week. The NFL Network was here last night, they’re broadcast is unique and they travel their studio. The one or two times our studio show comes out on site, they come out on site because of the magnitude of the event. The SEC Championship Game is big, it’s important and we want to make sure that we’re feeling the pulse and the passion from the second we come on the air, not just the second we come on the air for kickoff. I think that’s the advantage of having them here.”
SEC Digital Network: Your three announcers are certainly the most visible members of your broadcast team, but how many people are involved with the entire CBS operation?
Craig Silver: “They’re the face of the franchise – they’re the star quarterback and players, etc. They’ve earned that right and they deserve it. But, we travel with about 60 or 70 people and I keep coming back to the same statement I’ve made and it’s not exclusive to CBS, it’s any production team. We’re the third team on the field and we’re only as good as the person on the very bottom – the entry-level person that is doing research or stats – and there’s a tremendous respect level from the top to the bottom. The ideas and the contributions come from everybody but, at the end of the day, those are the three people who are making the presentation and, good, bad or indifferent, they’re the ones that people are watching and evaluating. They’re great to work with and they appreciate the efforts of our entire team of 60 to 70 people.”
SEC Digital Network: The winner of this game this season – likely either team - will have the opportunity to advance to the BCS Championship Game. How important is that factor to your broadcast?
Craig Silver: “This is a de-facto national semifinal, that’s just what it is, but I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that these players are playing for an SEC Championship. They’ll have that with them regardless of what happens in their next game if they emerge victorious. We’re probably seeing a preview of the future of college football. This game, even though it hasn’t always been 2-3 or 1-2, it certainly has the last four or five years where the winner for sure had almost a clear path to the national championship. I think this is a snapshot of the future or the very immediate present.”
SEC Digital Network: The last seven years especially, the SEC has really set the standard in college football; how important has it been to have the SEC 3:30 p.m. ET package as your Game of the Week?
Craig Silver: “If you’re in television production covering sports, it’s a dream come true. What makes the college football game, and specific to the SEC because of their tremendous strength and what they’ve accomplished over the last half-dozen years and more, is that virtually every game and certainly every game by the time you hit October has consequences. There’s that tension in covering the games that doesn’t exist in covering the other sports, it doesn’t even exist in the NFL until you get to the playoffs or the last couple of weeks. When Alabama lost to Texas A&M a couple of weeks ago, it felt like the most crushing of defeats. They knew it wasn’t final, but it sure was painful. This is just another week of that. We’ve been fortunate that the teams that have emerged from the East and the West over the last six to 10 years, at least one of them and in some cases both of them are right there in the hunt. It just raises the level of the consequence. Obviously, the SEC has been great and CBS has been the beneficiary of it. Will there be a year where the SEC eats each other and our game is 9-3 vs. 9-3? It will happen someday, I’m sure, it just hasn’t happened recently.”