Central Michigan Athletics Finds Academic Partner for Video Production

When Chris Rodela was a student at Central Michigan University, there was no formal relationship between the athletics department and the School of Broadcast and Cinematic Arts (BCA). As director of electronic media – sports information for the athletic department, he has created one, partnering with BCA faculty to give students hands-on experience with sports production and bringing knowledgeable student staffers to his productions.

“When I was hired, one of my main goals was to create a relationship where we were getting quality students to work in the athletic department and getting them with the blessing of the broadcast department,” Rodela says. “We really just got the ball moving on that in the last three months.”

Seeking Out the Talent
Alongside Ben Tigner, video unit head at the BCA School, Rodela developed a formal channel to reach out to video-minded students. At the beginning of each academic year, the BCA holds a co-curricular meeting, and Rodela is able to use that time to talk to broadcast-minded students about the opportunities available in sports production.

“I was able to attend the meeting of about 115 students and tell them who we are and what we do,” he says. “Every student who wanted to be involved in sports productions was right there listening, and, by the end of the night, I had a group of students signed up and ready to go.”

Through the university’s co-curricular offerings, BCA students have the ability to get involved with video production as early as their freshman year. Students have opportunities to work with Sony NX5 camcorders, record to SD cards, and learn Apple Final Cut Pro as they produce live broadcasts of field-hockey, soccer, and volleyball games.

“The students get experience running the cameras, they do live events, and they have to work with large groups of people,” Tigner explains. “For some of them, the hardest challenge is just the commitment, because getting involved requires more time than they’ve ever put in on any other project. What they learn is not just technical; it’s all aspects of preparing them to go out into the industry.”

Expanded Responsibilities
Now that BCA has partnered with the athletic department, those co-curricular projects will also include producing episodes for the CMU Sports Zone on the official athletics Website, CMUChippewas.com.

“Our sheer volume of content to the Web rivals [that of] any other Division I college in the country,” Rodela says. “Two years ago, we were putting out a weekly 10-minute show. Now, at the conclusion of every home event for all 16 of our sports, we post three or four separate videos, plus weekly shows for each sport. We put up 12-15 videos in a weekend, working with BCA students.”

Adds Tigner, “Students now get opportunities to do more than live field work. There are opportunities for one-on-one interviews, more opportunities for postproduction, and they will learn to use the Web to distribute the shows instead of putting them live over the air. We’ll throw the students into different settings with different expectations.”

Two Cameras, One Partnership
The first of those expectations will be learning a new camera system. Rodela’s department uses Panasonic HD camcorders, not Sony.

“We help them find everything on the camera that they would need to use during a shoot,” Rodela says. “We make sure they know where focus, zoom, and iris are and to work with our workflow with the SD cards. They need to know how to work with that in particular, because the stuff they learn at BCA has to do with different cameras.”

Once the students are proficient with the cameras, he assigns them to a game, and they capture the entire game. If he cannot stand alongside them throughout their first game, he assigns a veteran student with several seasons’ experience to provide support and answer questions during that first shoot.

Another Venue To Work With
Rodela currently employs five BCA students to assist in producing video content for the athletics Website, as well as for the video board at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. Once the university’s new Events Center is completed, he will have far more room to put students to work.

“In the new Events Center, we’ll have a four-camera setup for all of our events, and we’ll fiber those cameras back to the control room,” he says. “In the control room, there is a host of equipment that students are going to get a chance to get their hands on, including a Broadcast Pix 2100 production switcher and a NewTek 3Play system for replay.”

The jury is still out on the graphics system and video board that will be installed in the facility, but every athletics event that takes place in the Events Center will be Web-streamed by Rodela’s team of BCA students.

“With this new partnership, the opportunity that the students didn’t have before is not only to work with different equipment and produce content for different kinds of shows but to work with different people,” Tigner explains. “Any time you can expose students to different clients with different expectations, it gives them a much broader foundation for when they graduate.”

Paying It Forward
Rodela has big plans for his department’s level of video production, and the BCA partnership is crucial to reaching those goals.

“Knowing where to find competent students and getting help in recruiting them will allow us to continue to put out the amount of content out that we want to,” he says. “Being able to give these students additional opportunities that weren’t accessible when I was a student is also huge for us. Being an alumnus and being able to see that relationship mature is really special.”