CSMA Master Class: Ball State Sports Link Immerses Students in Sports Production

Since its inception, the College Sports Media Awards have recognized the best in class in the college sports production arena. As technology and production techniques improve, the ability to create high quality video on any budget has proliferated significantly. At the College Sports Video Summit, six universities and two professional networks were honored for their work in sports video content. Each Thursday this summer, SVG is proud to offer an in-depth look at these personalities and programs that have raised the bar for what college sports video is capable of.

 

 

It’s a cliché, but you just never know what life is going to throw at you. Just ask Ben Wagner and Pat Boylan.

Wagner, a senior member of Ball State’s immersive sports production program Sports Link, didn’t know much about an oversees summer trip made by Ball State men’s basketball player Jarrod Jones when he was assigned to work with classmate Kyle Binder as a producer on a feature story about it.

Fast forward nine months, and their project, Basketball Beyond Borders – The Jarrod Jones Story, was winning the College Sports Media Award for best Special Feature in College Academics at the College Sports Video Summit in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Boylan, a junior from Carmel, Indiana, knew he wanted to get into sports broadcasting when he graduated high school. What he didn’t know was the incredible opportunity awaiting him at Ball State.

Immersive Learning

Ball State University’s mission is to provide its students an “immersive learning experience.” These experimental courses take student’s majors and interests beyond the classroom in an attempt to mimic a real world environment to give them practical, workplace experience.

From left to right: Students Ben Wagner, Katie Hawkins, and Patrick Lehe work in the production truck during a Sports Link live men's basketball broadcast last season.

“[What our school asks is] how do we differentiate our students from other students at other universities?” says Chris Taylor, Instructor of Telecommunications / Sports Immersion & Media. “For [Ball State president Jo Ann M. Gora], and for us, the Ball State motto is immersive learning. It’s real world; it’s hands-on experience. That just lends itself to sports production because you can’t get any realer than that.”

Sports Link gives its student staff the opportunity to write, report, shoot, produce, and host a wide variety of pre-produced and live sports programming. It’s the first – and currently, the only – program in the country that fully immerses its students in the world of sports and electronic media.

“There’s no other class like it at Ball State and I wouldn’t trade it for any other class,” says Wagner, a native of Yorktown, Indiana. “The experiences, you can’t put a price tag on it. It’s real life experience.  If it’s not the real thing, it’s the closest thing to the real thing.”

From the Ground Up

Ball State Sports Link began rather unassumingly when Taylor – then working in the Athletic Communications Office – reached out to the university’s Telecommunications (TCOM) Department hoping to gain access to a camera and a student in an attempt to create more original content for the Ball State athletics program.

“We were looking for more content for our website to try to drive more visitors to [us],” said Taylor. “Also, we were always battling with schools such as [Indiana], Purdue, and Butler to get local coverage on TV. So we felt that if we could provide things to those outlets that we could really tell our story.”

Alex Kartman (second from right) directs Sports Link's live homecoming special in 2010.

TCOM chairman (at the time), Dr. Joe Misiewicz granted the request, and the forefather to Sports Link was born. In the fall of 2008, Sports Link was officially initiated as a pilot program. That same academic year, Taylor left Ball State to take a corporate communications job in Nashville. It wasn’t long before he was headed back to Muncie as, after a successful first year, the university looked to hire a full-time faculty member to run the operation. Taylor was naturally the first choice.

“It was much to our happiness that Chris wanted to come back,” says current TCOM chair Tim Pollard. “He has the perfect type of background for this operation. So when you have somebody like that who is also willing to adjust and adapt and move things around as needed, it’s great. In academia, it can take a long time to get things done sometimes, but he’s more than willing to change on a dime.”

In just four semesters, Sports Link has blossomed into the envy of the college television program field with over 20 students producing content for Ball State’s campus station, Cardinal Vision 57, as well as numerous local television affiliates and national partners. Sports Link features and shows have also appeared on Fox Sports Network, ESPNU, and Comcast Indiana.

“I came to Ball State not knowing [Sports Link] existed,” says Boylan, who last year co-hosted Sports Link’s news magazine show Be A Fan while also serving on-air during live basketball broadcasts. “Now, I can’t imagine if that wasn’t the case. I just look at some friends at other schools that are doing a similar career path and I can tell, just from a year of it, how far ahead I already am.”

Building a Culture

With Sports Link off and running in the fall of 2009, Taylor’s primary mission was to build a respected brand both on and off campus. While the operation is student run, Taylor worked to establish a professional culture.

Josh Blessing operates a camera during a Sports Link live production in 2011.

“I tell our students almost every day that we’re not a student production,” says Taylor. “We are producing stories, shooting highlights, and telling Ball State sports stories and everything that they do has the ability to be seen on a professional or commercial network. I don’t want anything we do to feel like it’s a student production, like they just cranked something out to get a grade. That’s not what we do.”

Taylor’s students buy into that attitude, learning that sports production is not a typical 9-5 profession. It takes an exceptional level of passion and work ethic to do it well.

“It’s not a class feel, and I think for something like this it really can’t be a class feel,” says Boylan, one of the first two students in the program to begin their sophomore year as a member. “If someone has the same feeling coming here as going to Biology 101 or something, then it’s probably not for you.”

Sports Link is a prime example to other universities looking to either introduce a sports video production program or is looking to take theirs to the next level. A school’s most valuable resource is its students.

“When you look at where we are at, we’re classified mid-major level, and this fall we will have 21 students who will be a sports production house for our athletics department,” says Taylor. “You can’t find a bigger crew anywhere else in the country doing that kind of stuff and we’re doing it at Ball State. So it can be done.”

Catch all of the CSMA Master Class series and check out the complete list of CSMA winners. For more on the College Sports Video Summit, visit www.csvsummit.com.