The good stuff is printable. The great stuff isn’t. Imagine you and your poker buddies on a bus together for almost three weeks, rolling from Lincoln (the tunnel) to Lincoln (the state capital), laughing at the world.
“We do give each other a lot of grief,” Big Ten Network host Dave Revsine says with a knowing grin.
The BTN bus visits the Wisconsin Badgers on Friday, the 11th of 14 stops on its annual preseason roadie. The on-air trio of Dave, Howard Griffith and Gerry DiNardo — the 10-year-old network’s soul and spine — have been doing this bit for a decade now, the August rite of passage. Roll into campus, turn on the lights, set up shop.
Paul Chryst, the floor is yours.
After we vote on dinner.
“The food, the restaurants are really important,” says Revsine, Starship BTN’s Captain Kirk. “So we had a contest going for a while where you’d have the restaurant in a particular town, and everyone would vote on restaurants.
“And there was one time where Gerry was trying to rig the vote so I wouldn’t win. And I think he screwed it up mathematically and our researcher ended up winning, and I don’t think he wanted him to win, either. And Gerry couldn’t do that high-level mathematics like adding eight and nine together and figure out where that would come up in the ratings.”
Everybody gives it. Everybody takes it. Egos are teased and tested, but never bruised. It’s like a rolling family reunion, only with just the family members you’d actually want to have beers with.
“We’ve had some funny moments,” Revsine says. “The arguments over parking spots. Restaurants. And giving each other non-stop grief.
“We’re at the point where we’re long past finishing each other’s sentences. But we still, throughout all of that, go out to dinner every night together. So we are on the tour, so we are 10 years into this, and we still choose — I mean, maybe one time, each tour, one guy will be like, ‘Hey, I’m not feeling well,’ or whatever.
“But essentially, we spend the whole day together. We’re on this bus together, and we choose to spend more time together. And I think that speaks volumes.”
‘We were clearly resonating within the footprint’
Imagine the grub. This is tour No. 11, officially. The first tours were by car; the BTN bus entered the picture in 2009.
By the time it wraps on Aug. 23, they’ll have logged roughly 4,000 miles. And Lord knows how many handshakes.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” says DiNardo, the former Indiana, LSU and Vanderbilt coach who — like Resvine and Griffith — joined BTN as an analyst for its launch in August 2007 and remains synonymous with the network to this day.
“And most people don’t come up and say, ‘You know, you’re really bad at what you do.’ Most people say, ‘You’re good at what you do,’ whether it’s true or not.”
DiNardo spent almost a decade coaching in SEC country and maintains a home in Florida. But for several years, he’s been approached by more and more Big Ten fans and alums in the Sunshine State than those who want to chew the fat about the Tigers or Commodores.
“Between my SEC background and my Big Ten background, you know, and where I live, a lot of people vacation down there,” DiNardo says. “And so when people say, ‘Hi,’ I have to figure out what conference, and then obviously what teams. So yeah, it’s obviously fun.”
— Gerry DiNardo (@gerrydinardo) August 8, 2014
— Gerry DiNardo (@gerrydinardo) August 8, 2017
DiNardo, Griffith and Revsine gave the channel gravitas. BTN Live gave it immediacy. The Journey gave it depth.
But it was the August preseason tour, the on-campus stuff, that gave it validation. A chance to see, up close, the impact of what they’d wrought.
“What was unusual was kind of that, in these areas, that in Iowa City, all of a sudden you’re really being recognized a lot,” says Revsine, who’d left ESPN to help pull the sled for the start-up network. “And in Columbus, you know, and people coming up and saying, ‘I love this network, it has changed the way that I watch television, and [how] I consume Michigan State football or Iowa basketball.’ ”
BTN launched with availability in 17 million homes nationally; a month later, that reach had jumped to 30 million. According to an estimate by SNL Kagan, the channel was available in at least 65 million homes as of early 2016. And the crowds, especially the campus crowds, gave them a pretty good measuring stick exactly where things were at — and where things were going.
“Look, if I throw myself into this endeavor, I don’t want them to recognize me for being there [ESPN] anymore,” Revsine recalls. “It’s a problem if I’m in Ann Arbor and there’s a guy wearing a Michigan hat who says, ‘SportsCenter!’ Then we have a problem, right? I need him to be saying, ‘Big Ten Network!’ Because otherwise, we’re missing the boat.
“And I’d say that happened in reasonably short order. I mean, obviously, the first year was strange, and not everyone could get us, so it wasn’t right away. But it was fairly quickly. I’d say within a few years, you definitely began to feel that we were clearly resonating within the footprint. And that was a neat deal.”
‘This is really cool, when you think about it’
Imagine the love. In the spring and summer of 2007, Griffith — Terrell Davis’ lead blocker for two Denver Super Bowl champions — says he had been planning on taking a radio gig with Illinois when BTN entered the picture.
“But then once I got into it, I was like, ‘Man, this is really cool, when you think about it,’ ” says Griffith, the Fighting Illini’s all-time leader in career rushing touchdowns (31) and rushing touchdowns in a game (8 against Southern Illinois in 1990). “We’re going to focus on just these teams?
“To me, I immediately thought of the teams that, say, don’t get the credit — and I graduated from one of those schools that are not going to be on SportsCenter on a consistent basis, or your College GameDays. Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got a place where you’re going to be talked about.
“And also the Olympic sports [were] a big thing. And I think that I probably don’t appreciate that as much as if I had a son or a daughter who played. But I hear from them. They absolutely love it, and swear by it … I think it’s so cool that, all of a sudden, you can show these kids in a different light. Only not just their athleticism, but also things that they’re doing away from the game, which is really cool.”
Imagine three weeks of football, three weeks of bonding.
Imagine 4,000 miles of blacktop.
Imagine gags that run a lot farther than that.
“Here’s the thing I remember,” Revsine says, grinning again. “Maybe going into the third or fourth year of it, I was saying something to my wife, I’m packing up, I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s 18 days on the road and whatever.’
“And she just says to me, so just calls B.S. on me.
“She says: ‘So let me get this straight, OK? You’re with Gerry and Howard, who you love. You’re on a bus watching football. You’re not cleaning up after the kids. You expect me to believe that this is something you don’t look forward to?’ ”
Imagine what August would be like without it.
“And I think that’s the big thing,” Revsine says. “And I think with any job, if you look forward to it all the time, you’re doing something right.”