CSVS 2010: The Staff and the Stuff

Although much of the college-sports conversation of late has been dominated by big-money TV deals and spectrum-changing conference shifts, most schools remain focused on one thing: saving money. On Tuesday at SVG’s second-annual College Sports Technology Summit (CSVS) in Atlanta, a group of the top college sports-video professionals detailed their strategies for maintaining a reasonable budget for both the staff and the stuff (technology).

The Staff
“The most important thing is our students,” said Jeff Bentley, executive producer, Kent State Sports Network. “We’ve been using students all along [for our productions], and that’s really the only way to do it. We pay them a little bit, but sometimes only in food and T-shirts.”

Overwhelmingly, the theme was the role of students within the production staff. While many schools are struggling with budget constraints, students provide a valuable (and affordable) asset for sports production departments with limited manpower.

“I do not have the toys that a lot of other [universities and colleges] have. I pretty much have me and three students,” said Chandler Harkey, director of video operations, Appalachian State Athletics. “We do everything we can to push out as much content as possible, and they play a huge role in that. The students are students; they’re going to mess up from time to time. But they are talented and interested, and we’re not broadcasting the NFL here. They’re going to have to do it, though, because one person can’t run a five-camera show.”

Many institutions around the country have already established student-based programs for sports-video production, but one of the primary issues remains keeping these students interested and dedicated.

“We want our kids to have some skin in the game, so [at Baylor University,] they either get paid or are getting a grade,” said Bryan Bray, director of BaylorVision, Baylor University. “We make sure there is a reason they’re there, so we try to give them a path and keep them on that path.”

However, even the best production students will be around for only so long. Schools are constantly looking for the next wave of students to fill production staffs.

“We bring in about 15 kids [each semester for a sports-production class],” said Bray. “We offer six or seven of the best ones jobs to work with us, and then, out of that, we turn them into work-study students and perhaps [professionals] after that. It is pretty amazing when you have a kid go from start to finish [in your program] and say, ‘I think what you do is pretty cool, and I want to do it for the rest of my life.’”

The Stuff
In addition to staffing, collegiate video-production departments face the constant battle of keeping up with modern technology while adhering to an often strict budget. CSVS speakers agreed that the solution to this issue lies in collaboration and open dialogue.

“It’s about asking questions, finding people you respect at other [programs] and getting their ideas,” said Jerry Wetzel, director of electronic media, University of Florida. “It’s going to places like [CSVS] and asking questions and asking people how they do things. You find out the information from your [colleagues at other schools]; then you get on your knees and beg for the money. The key is making sure the guts of your system are correct first, then adding on to that.”

In the current landscape, college sports-video departments must take into account the endless number of outlets to which that their content is distributed. This goes a long way in determining the equipment and technology needed to produce each school’s sports content.

“Where is the content going: online, video board, Big Ten Network, ABC?” asked Rick Church, sports broadcasting director, Michigan State University. “Is it 1080 or 720? HD or SD? All you can do is try your best to match the technology with the outlet. We make those decisions, and then we go from there.

However, in the end, Harkey added, the decision comes down to consulting as many of your video peers as possible: “Every magazine that I can get my hands on I read, read, read. Then, ask people about this stuff. Go ask engineers at your local news station or production people in your area. They are great outlets for information, and we can learn a lot from each other.”