Planning for one big bash

Updated: September 1, 2004, 4:24 PM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

NORMAN, Okla. -- On the surface, everything seems ready: Catering will arrive at 4:00 a.m. Gates will open at 9:30. Kickoff is set for 11:10. There has been a security run-through, disaster training and the implementation of an entirely new ticket-taking system.

But questions remain: Where will ABC park its satellite truck? Does the Oklahoma band know the Bowling Green fight song? And will there be enough porta-potties?

You Think We Need Another Guy?
Game Day Personnel Numbers
Concessions 763
Custodial 75
Electricians 11
Elevator Operators 10
HVAC-Heat/Air 4
Medical (Doctors, Nurses, EMTs, Stretcher Teams) 82
Parking Attendents 85
Plumbing 5
Private Security 162
Ticket Takers 135
Ushers 242
Utility Specialists 2
Postgame Cleaning Crew 250
These are the prevalent concerns on the days leading into Saturday's season opener against Bowling Green. Days before kickoff, while Bob Stoops sits in his office behind the south end zone and fine-tunes his game plan, 26 individuals cram into a cushy meeting room behind the North end zone to finalize everything else.

They've met four times since the first of August and will gather once more before Saturday's kickoff. Their goal is a simple and seamless game-day operation. Cold water at the concession stands. Short lines in the bathrooms. And certainly no Sooner Schooner trampling over Barry Switzer. But perfection isn't likely. In six home games last year, everything came together perfectly twice. Think about the work that goes into hosting a party for 80 people. Now multiply that by 1,000.

Questions and concerns are everywhere, especially with a recent expansion pushing Memorial Stadium's capacity to more than 81,000. How will this many people park in 12,000 campus spots? Who picks up the 60,000 pounds of trash? What if 100,000 bottles of water or 950 rolls of toilet paper aren't enough? What if there's a terrorist attack?

"When you step back and try to wrap your arms around everything as a whole, it's pretty daunting," said Matt Trantham, the school's assistant athletics director for event management and the leader of the all-important weekly meeting.

More than 1,500 university employees and local volunteers work the stadium on game day. The OU Police Department coordinates security with more than 10 different law enforcement agencies. This summer, the Office of Homeland Security quietly visited Norman to train athletic department officials on potential disaster scenarios. And in the case of injury, heart attack or heat exhaustion, there's a small emergency room on the concourse, complete with 82 medical personnel on hand, including doctors, nurses, EMTs, even stretcher teams to carry fans through the stadium.

On the field, the day is choreographed to precision. Everything is scripted, from when the band takes the field (10:50 a.m.) and when the band leaves the field (11:00 a.m.) to when Sooners take the field (11:07:30). During last year's game against Texas A&M, 99 different events were planned in both real time and corresponding game time. What music the team can play during pregame warm-ups (all lyrics are carefully scrutinized) to the exact wording of the public address announcer's welcome message is all planned out.

"I'm often reminded that I'm trying to squeeze 10 pounds of flour into a 5-pound sack," Trantham said. "But that's the idea."

Come One, Come All
A list of the various individuals represented at the Aug. 25 University of Oklahoma game operations meeting:
  • Flintco Construction
  • OU Police Department
  • Office of the President
  • Public Affairs Office
  • University Regents Office
  • University Food Services
  • Aramark Concessions
  • Oklahoma Marching Band
  • University Bookstore
  • OU Alumni Office
  • Event Management Office
  • OU Parking
  • Facilities Department
  • Marketing Office
  • Sooner Vision
  • Technology Department
  • Cheerleaders/Spirit
  • Football Office
  • Development/Donor Services
  • Equipment Manager
  • Media Relations
  • Ticket Office
  • Sooner Sports Properties
  • To make it all come together requires meetings. Lots of them. Typically represented each Wednesday are 23 different groups, covering everything from technology to spirit. On this day's gathering, 10 days before the season-opening kickoff, Trantham reviews final details.

  • Will the finishing touches on a $75 million renovation to Memorial Stadium be completed on time? Yes.

  • Are the ticket takers ready to begin scanning instead of stubbing tickets? Yes.

  • Will the furniture be delivered to the Legends Lobby in time for visiting recruits? Probably.

    No detail is too small. The Sooners scored more than 40 points eight times in 2003 and Trantham reminds everyone that in-game pyrotechnics, which blow up after every Oklahoma score, will cease after 40 points.

    "To minimize cost," Trantham explains. "We're charged on a per shot basis. It gets expensive."

    He then makes sure the Pride of Oklahoma, the school's band, can play the Bowling Green fight song, since the Falcons band isn't making the trip. When Trantham mentions plans to honor former Sooner and 2004 British Open champion Todd Hamilton with a Sooner jersey, one attendee asks, "What's the Claret Jug?" The room groans.

    Then there are the Porta-Potties. Eight of them were strategically placed in the parking lots of key donors last season, but everyone used them, creating long lines and lots of headaches. This year, it was suggested to either add more toilets or get security to monitor who uses them. The discussion goes on for three minutes, but the answer is a no-brainer. Eleven additional toilets are added.

    Though problems are an inevitable occurrence during every game, fans in attendance rarely notice. That wasn't the case in 2000, when the drivers of the Sooner Schooner forgot about a pregame ceremony to honor former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne. They nearly ran right over him and legendary OU coach Barry Switzer. Last season, fans complained that the pyrotechnics crew wore orange vests. Others chirped that new scoreboards were too orange, reminding them of rivals Oklahoma State and Texas.

    "That's like playing Notre Dame and having someone upset with you because the grass is too green," associate athletics director Rick Hart said.

    In all, things have gone relatively smoothly in the four years since Trantham left the same job with the Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics to join the Sooners.

    "If everything goes the way it should," Trantham said, "the average fan shouldn't have any idea what game operations even is."

    Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.

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