As March Madness kicks into high gear, some Sycamores will be watching the coverage from a pro’s perspective. A new arrangement with ESPN offers State students the opportunity to learn what it’s like to be behind and in front of the camera for big games.
Indiana State and ESPN have teamed up to offer an additional hands-on learning for students with the formation of ESPN3, yet unlike other universities in the Missouri Valley Conference, ESPN3 at State is the only program completely student-operated.
Before MVC schools and ESPN signed a nine-year contract during the summer of 2015, the rooms in the lower level of Dreiser Hall were mostly empty or used for storage. Now, those rooms are flush with fiber cables and state-of-the-art video equipment to broadcast Sycamore sports globally. ESPN3’s live broadcasts have included coverage of volleyball, football, men and women’s basketball on campus since its debut this past fall. Students also produced and live-streamed a college football National Signing Day special. As the program on campus expands, so will the coverage of sports — potentially soccer, softball and baseball as well as other potential programming.
“The big picture is it gives your university exposure, your town exposure,” said Christopher Jones, sports video manager. “It’s about giving exposure to our student athletes, but also, it’s a great opportunity for students who are interested in doing television and video and learning how to do a national broadcast.”
Exposure through ESPN could aid coaches in recruiting by increasing Indiana State’s appeal to prospective athletes and promoting the university’s communications program to high school students who want a career in front — or behind — the cameras, Jones said.
Working with students in his capacity is interesting, Jones said, as the students have to balance classwork with the opportunity to work on these real career productions. For every game covered, it takes “about 14-16 personnel to actually do the production the way ESPN wants it done, so you want people in those positions who are willing and able to do a good job.”
The various roles for the student-operated programs include camera operators, graphics operators, audio technicians, replay-operators, technical directors, a producer, a director and of course, announcers.
“(Students) go from producing or being camera operators to actually announcing the game on national TV,” says Jones. “I like to rotate the personnel all through the ranks. I want (students) to be able to touch, do, observe, learn and master as much as they can so that when they see job openings they will feel confident.”
Working for a big brand like ESPN is “a lot of fun, first of all, but it’s a lot of hard work. At first, it was nerve-wracking being a part of ESPN3, but as time went on we have all settled into our roles, and we realize even professionals make mistakes every now and then,” said Seth Payne of Jasper, Ind., a graduate assistant and production coordinator for ESPN3.
With his all-encompassing title, Payne produces and directs games as well as organizes the visual aspects of storytelling: graphics, camera operation, replays and announcing.
“It gives me a better idea of what sports production really is,” Payne said.
Michael Winstead, a senior communications major from Lafayette, was hired on as a Video Operator Two who works in the control room as well as behind-camera, but also runs the three-play machine and creates packages and highlights and had the opportunity to announce on-air during the volleyball season last fall.
“I feel like I have what it takes to do both sides, and that’s especially important in a field like communications,” Winstead said.
Winstead transferred to State in fall 2014 and found truth in the “More to Blue” slogan when he immediately began working at Sycamore Video, of which he is now the general manager. Students can also gain hands-on experience by working or volunteering at the two campus radio stations — WZIS and WISU — as well as other Student Media opportunities including SycCreations, the Statesman, yearbook and more.
Working for ESPN is “very surreal, especially as a college-aged student,” Winstead said. “We have freshmen who came in in August not knowing what to expect, and now they’re working for ESPN. I’m 23 and heck, I didn’t think I’d get the chance to do something like this — not in college anyway.”
Winstead says he enjoys working with Jones and values his real-life take on mentoring students. “If we screw up, (Jones is) not afraid to tell us, but he’s also willing to help us out, which is what you need in a leader like that,” Winstead said.
When ESPN3’s first few games did not reach the students’ standard of excellence, Jones told Winstead and rest of the crew “in this business, you have to go one game at time.” Winstead said he remembered the how it felt to start out as students at the helm of a global broadcast.
“Oh my goodness, the first couple volleyball games we worked this past fall — uh — we were all in the control room and usually, a few hours before the game, so we’d be set up, we’d take our time, and we’d just be sitting in the control room not talking to each other,” he recalled. “Not because we didn’t like each other or anything like that, just because we were so nervous and so anxious to get it out of the way. Now, we’re in there 10 minutes to tip-off before a basketball game and we’re cracking jokes. I think a lot of that has to do with just a great chemistry between us. We all know what it takes to put on a live all TV production.”
Abigail “Abby” Malchow, a senior communication and electronic media major from Rochester, works as an announcer and camera operator for ESPN3. She’s also a student athlete.
“The ability to work for ESPN after practice on a men’s basketball game is very nice, because I still feel like I can be a well-rounded individual by getting some media experience but still doing everything I can for softball,” Malchow said.
She started out as a camera operator and discovered that she loved announcing, for which working in different capacities helped strengthen her skills.
“If a glitch happens, I understand how hard it is to work the three-play machine, therefor I can pick up if there is an error or something going on during the game, and it’s nice to be behind the camera and know how hard that job is, so when you work in all aspects you kind of have respect for all portions and then you’re able to help each other as we go through a production.”
Malchow thinks it’s ‘very exciting’ to work for ESPN. “It’s a little intimidating at first, but it’s nice to text your mom back at home like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be live on ESPN3 tonight’, and the name gives you confidence to you’re doing something great for your future.”
Malchow knew she was interested in broadcasting before joining the ESPN3 team, but being able to cover live women’s and men’s basketball games reassured her. As for the future of ESPN3, Malchow thinks “everything is getting bigger.”
Winstead said, “We are definitely headed in the right direction. We have a good group of people who are willing to work and want to work.”
Malchow is grateful for the opportunity to be a part of ESPN3. “I feel so lucky that (ESPN3 was) able to come here for my final year of school,” she said. “I would have been bummed to miss out, and I envy the freshmen and sophomores who will have two, three years of experience with ESPN. There’s not much you feel you can’t do after a production like this.”
Jones says he believes managing students at ESPN3 is a way to give back to the mentors who helped him.
“When I was a recent graduate, I didn’t know what to do at ESPN, just like the students who sat in the ESPN3 control room in horror,” said Jones, “but someone grabbed my hand and told me what to do. I saw this as an opportunity to give back in that way so that the people who want to go out and do this as a career, as a profession, have a realistic idea of what they’re going to be asked to do when they have a job.”