ESPN prepares for tricks

If Canadian running back Jesse Lumsden is picked in the NFL Draft this weekend, ESPN says they will...

If Canadian running back Jesse Lumsden is picked in the NFL Draft this weekend, ESPN says they will be ready if that occurs. (Toronto Sun File Photo/Ernest Doroszuk)

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

ESPN producers have spent the last few months preparing, so they're ready for anything at tomorrow's NFL draft.

The U.S. cable network will have five different set locations, 32 team feeds, reporters all over North America in NFL cities, cameras focused on a dozen prospects and a panel of four analysts dissecting every selection.

There's also a simulcast on ESPNU -- the network's college sports spinoff channel -- with a separate panel analysing the draft picks from the perspective of the universities and how it affects their team.

Nothing should catch these guys off-guard.

So if a Canadian running back from McMaster University is a surprise selection in tomorrow's first three rounds, what exactly will they do?

Jay Rothman, ESPN's senior co-ordinating producer for the NFL, said the possibility a team may select Jesse Lumsden is exactly why they prepare so exhaustively.

"If you look at 32 teams in the first round, it becomes very logical when you look at a piece of paper," Rothman said. "It becomes very illogical in terms of shooting."

With Lumsden, Toledo Rockets offensive tackle Nick Kaczur of Brantford, Ont., and Stanford Cardinal free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe of Windsor, Ont., as potential picks, TSN decided to pick up the first three rounds from ESPN.

The program is hosted by Chris Berman with analysts Mel Kiper Jr., Chris Mortensen and St. Louis Rams receiver Torry Holt -- the first time an active player has participated with the main desk.

The unprecedented Canadian coverage could last six hours starting at 10 a.m. and you can bet every CFL team's player personnel department will be watching.

The Calgary Stampeders hold the first pick in the CFL Canadian college draft Thursday, when Lumsden would be the automatic No. 1 if the NFL has no interest in him.

But the Stamps won't be the only ones watching in Canada and the U.S.

The draft has grown into an event second only to the Super Bowl in terms of viewership for the league.

At the 2004 draft where Eli Manning went first overall, a record 31.4 million viewers tuned in over the course of the weekend, up 8% from the year before. ESPN has expanded its coverage accordingly, slotting about 17 hours of air time to the two-day event at the Javits Convention Center in New York.

Rothman, who runs ESPN's Sunday Night Football and will see his role expand once Monday Night Football moves over from ABC for the 2006 season, said the draft is the most intensive production the network does all year.

"What makes it so difficult, compared with a regular show ... where everything is scripted, is we only script the first five minutes and we're flying by the seat of our pants the other 16 hours and 55 minutes," Rothman said.

"We're working on an accordion clock. We don't know if it's 15 minutes in the first round or 30 minutes. Our job is a lot of air traffic control. It's like flying a plane with no radar. You try to do the right thing at the right time to serve the viewer. Sometimes things fall by the wayside."

Hopefully, Lumsden, Kaczur and Atogwe won't be one of those things neglected.


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