ESPN Splits Screen for NCAA Wrestling Championships

If following 68 teams in a month-long clash for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship is considered March “Madness,” then what would you call tracking 330 wrestlers battling for 10 individual championships over just three days? Mass hysteria?

WrestleLogoFor the 34th straight year, NCAA wrestling champions will be crowned on ESPN, and coverage on the ESPN family of networks continues to expand. The tournament begins with ESPN3’s exclusive live coverage of the first and second rounds on Thursday at noon and 7:30 p.m. ET. For the fifth year, the online, multiscreen sports network will provide a four-screen, four-mat viewing experience unique to wrestling in the first, second, and quarterfinal rounds.

This obviously offers added challenges for both the production crew and the on-air announce teams.

“The workflow is altered by the announcers’ having to navigate the viewer more deliberately to which match they are commenting on, as well as being an additional step for the technical director,” says John Vassallo, a senior coordinating producer at ESPN.

For the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, ESPN will use this split-screen template to show viewers two matches live simultaneously.

For the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, ESPN will use this split-screen template to show viewers two matches live simultaneously.

The technology was introduced to NCAA Wrestling in 2008 in the quarterfinals and has grown over time. Much as it did last year, ESPN will work in conjunction with ESPN Regional, based in Charlotte, NC. Together, they will deploy four cameras, one each covering the inside mats. In the production trucks, the production team will use all four banks of the switcher to feed the four mat feeds out of one switcher, using a pair of unlinks.

For the seventh consecutive year, two of the quarterfinals and the semifinals will be televised on ESPNU in a side-by-side format to maximize the HD viewing experience.

“Essentially, the side-by-side imagery allows us to bring the viewer two matches at the same time,” says Vassallo. “Hence, in the semifinal round, we can bring viewers both matches live.”

During the finals on ESPN (Saturday at 8 p.m.), the production team will boost the audio offerings by miking the referees.