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#CFB150: Inside the making of a season-long celebration

Director of College Football 150th Anniversary shares how it all came together

Kevin Weiberg, executive director of the College Football 150th Anniversary

The 2019 college football season is underway, and for the players, coaches and fans, each week brings another rush of gridiron excitement. But as the football community moves full speed ahead, this season it is also taking time to look back — on 150 years of history. All season long, from the first snap in August to the final whistle in January, the milestone anniversary of college football is being commemorated. Planning a season-long celebration across not only the three divisions of the NCAA, but all of college football, is no small feat. But since August 2017, longtime athletics administrator Kevin Weiberg has led the charge. The NCAA recently caught up with Weiberg, the executive director of the nonprofit College Football 150th Anniversary, to learn more about this season of celebration.

Why did you want to be involved in the planning and administration of the college football anniversary?

I thought it was a great opportunity to give something back to college football and the sport in general. And because I’ve worked across multiple conferences in my career, it seemed like something that was ideally suited for me. I’ve had three-plus decades of work in college sports, starting at the university level and eventually through my experiences at the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12. Throughout my entire decades of involvement, the sport was really important to the health of the enterprise as a whole. I also thought it was a great opportunity to be able to highlight the importance of the sport, its cultural significance, as well.

There’s a whole season of anniversary celebrations planned, which is not an easy thing to pull off. How did you all do it?

One thing that makes college football unique is it’s very decentralized. There are hundreds of universities who are competing at all different levels. So it really is an interesting organizational challenge; there are a lot of steps you have to go through to get everyone on board. First, we had to engage in some listening to determine what expectations stakeholders in this sport would have for this kind of celebration. Also, we needed some outside help, because while we had funding from the NCAA and the College Football Playoff to get it off the ground, we didn’t have a high level of resources to build out a large staff around it. So we knew we needed some outside assistance. We went through a process of finding a company that could help us with a visual identity program. Then we followed pretty quickly after that with the hiring of a marketing agency that could help us think through an integrated marketing plan for the anniversary. The National Football Foundation provided office space, which has been really helpful, and their staff has contributed as well with the effort.

Throughout the season, the focus is on “celebrating the good in the game.” What does that mean to you?

Our board members had three primary goals with the anniversary. One was to strive to create as much public awareness that this is the 150th year of college football as possible. Second was to get as much broad participation from those who have a vested interest in the sport as possible. And finally, that we would use the platform of the anniversary as a way to promote and raise awareness of those things that are part of the sport that I think most people would consider to be positives. We know there’s a lot about the sport that gets covered that isn’t always flattering. But we do think there are things that get buried in that coverage that maybe don’t illuminate as much the positive attributes, and that’s where we wanted to put our focus. So we talked to our stakeholder groups and our fan groups, and there were three common attributes that came to the surface when people described how they think about college football from a positive standpoint. Those things centered on the educational opportunity the sport provides to young people, the leadership traits that players gain from participation in the sport, and finally, the community-building aspects of the sport. The fact that over many years, the sport has helped to enrich the experience of universities themselves, but also the broader communities in which the universities reside. So those are the broader aspects we’ve tried to focus on: education, leadership and community.

Thinking ahead about the events you have planned, what are you most excited about?

We tried to kind of pick our spots because we knew there would be an ongoing narrative throughout the season and that schools have their own priorities in terms of what they’ll be promoting, so we wanted to have certain points in the season where the anniversary would be elevated. We really focused on the opening of the season. That included the games at the FBS level and the FCS level that are hosted at neutral sites in the first three weeks of the season. And then we jumped from there to the anniversary week itself. The birthday of college football is Nov. 6 — that’s when Rutgers played Princeton in the first game in 1869. The National Football League is assisting us with putting some focus on the college football anniversary at their Monday night football game on Nov. 4. On Nov. 6, there will be some campus commemorations at Rutgers. And then on Nov. 9, we have a unique opportunity with Princeton playing Dartmouth in Yankee Stadium in New York. Those are some high points.

And then in the postseason, we’ll have some common things going on across the 40 bowl games. We’ve gotten great support from the Football Bowl Association. The NCAA is also supporting through the championships structure, with some activations in-stadium at NCAA championships. We’ve also extended that through to the NAIA and community college associations, as well. And then the national championship game of the College Football Playoff on Jan. 13 in New Orleans, we’ll have some in-stadium recognition. And we’re working on a culminating event in conjunction with ESPN and the College Football Playoff and the Football Bowl Association that will happen on Jan. 11, where we’re going to recognize an all-time All-America team that is being selected by a voting panel.

How have these efforts been received thus far?

I have been really impressed with the way it’s been received by the folks at the campus level. We’ve gotten really nice support, from everything from teams being willing to wear the uniform patch, which isn’t always an easy thing to get done, to carrying through some of our promotional elements through their social media and other things. This was a completely voluntary effort on the part of schools and conferences, so it’s been very nice to see that kind of reception for it.