NCAA Broadcast Manual Offers Collective Answers to Campus Production Questions

The National Collegiate Athletic Association oversees the broadcasts of 88 NCAA Championships, including network- and cable-television, radio and satellite-radio, and Internet presentations of every championship event. To afford some uniformity across those presentations, the NCAA has developed a Broadcast Manual, available at www.NCAA.com/broadcast, which represents a collective effort of the NCAA Broadcast Department, professional sports leagues, and the United States Olympic Committee. Answers to any college campus’s broadcast question — from power to parking — can be found in this still-evolving manual.

“This is an extremely valuable resource, something that I use daily,” says Chris Fitzpatrick, associate director of broadcasting for the NCAA. “I don’t expect our membership to memorize these policies or protocols, but I’ve saved these links on my Blackberry.”

A Go-To Guide
Those links provide answers to questions about everything from satellite feeds and lighting and power requirements to who pays for phone lines and what replays are acceptable on a video board. Sections within the manual include programming and production, news, media, press conferences and satellite feeds, radio, Internet, broadcast rights and footage licensing, and video boards.

“In our manual, it states here’s the protocol for such a situation, and we go from there,” Fitzpatrick says. “The manual is a huge part of the process for us internally to be able to answer questions efficiently and effectively.”

Getting efficient answers to more than 1,200 member institutions is critical for the NCAA, especially during weeks like the next few on the calendar. Next week begins the Division I Men’s Lacrosse tournament, for which all 15 games are televised, and the following week features the Division I Women’s Softball tournament, which will have two regional sites televised in addition to all eight super regionals, which are followed by the ever-growing Women’s College World Series that is televised on ESPN and ESPN2 in HD. The Men’s Division I Baseball tournament follows both of those championships, which makes for a hectic spring season of broadcasts.

“Potentially, on a super regional softball weekend, we are broadcasting 24 games across three networks in four days,” Fitzpatrick says. “The Division I Baseball super regional weekend is the same situation; you have another potential for 24 games in four days. And with spring sports, you’re dealing with weather issues, travel issues, all things that could play into postponing a game or moving it from one network to the other.”

Bringing the Championship Home
An important section for any school wishing to host a championship is the television guidelines for site selection, which gives schools the opportunity to see if they meet the technical requirements to host a championship event. This list of guidelines and policies includes answers on everything from seat kills and NCAA lighting best practices to guidelines on house cameras and a mult-box how-to. Information is also included on how local TV stations and ENG camera crews covering the championship event are able obtain a program feed from the network that is televising the game live.

“There are five key broadcast components that we are looking for in a championship site,” Fitzpatrick explains. “The TV-compound location dictates everything else that we’re doing in terms of short cable runs to announce positions and camera locations. Then, there are the questions of adequate power and adequate lighting. Those are the five big hits for us that say, can there be a live broadcast out of this facility that’s going to look good on television?”

An Evolving Team Effort
The entire NCAA broadcast team contributed to the writing of the broadcast manual, which is by no means set in stone. Chris Farrow, a long-time NCAA broadcast staff member and now a coordinating producer at ESPN, was very instrumental in the inception of the manual and its policies.

“We get great ideas from our membership,” Fitzpatrick says. “We had some good communication with professional leagues, and we also reached out to the USOC and tried to get some feedback. We also look at what the conferences are doing with their regular-season rights.”

The NCAA does not have broadcast jurisdiction over regular-season games or conference tournaments, so conferences set their own broadcast guidelines for those contests. Happily, Fitzpatrick says, some conferences have adopted the protocols that the NCAA puts out for its championships because they want the regular season to mirror championship situations.

“That consistency level helps us because it communicates one message to the local media,” Fitzpatrick says.

A Growing Video-Board Presence
He was charged with developing the section on video-board guidelines and policies, which has grown tremendously in his five years with the NCAA.

“In the 2005-06 season, less than 20 of the 88 championship finals sites had video boards,” Fitzpatrick says. “Last year, 51 of the final sites had a video board. And we’re selecting more final and preliminary round sites that have video boards because we know it’s such an important part of the presentation, the fan experience, and the experience for the student-athletes.”

Fitzpatrick talked to the NFL and NBA to help shape the NCAA’s policy on controversial replays and decided to settle on the side of maintaining order.

“We try not to show any controversial replays that would incite the crowd,” Fitzpatrick says. “It is somewhat open in terms of using your own discretion, so we have to be able to rely on our hosts. With the broadcast manual, the information is available 24 hours a day on the Website, and you hope folks follow up with any questions. By no means, are we able to police what goes on at every preliminary-round site, but it gives our schools, national media rights holders, local media, and our broadcast constituents the opportunity to all be on the same page, operating from the same policies.”

New Players on the Scene
As campus audio and video departments, as well as campus television stations, continue to grow, Fitzpatrick adds, it is imperative that they understand what rights they have during NCAA championship broadcasts.

“If a national rightsholder is televising the game live, what are the capabilities of the team videographer?” he asks. “We lay that all out in the manual, and that is an important piece of the puzzle. Some of the NCAA membership is aware of the existence of this manual, but many school A/V departments are not, and it’s important that they understand their rights, access to the event, and restrictions.”

Representatives from the NCAA will be in attendance at the College Sports Video Summit, June 8-9 in Atlanta, to talk more about the Broadcast Manual and its evolving policies. Click here for more information and to register for the Summit.