TCU Masters Video Marriage of Athletics and Academics

One of the most widely encountered challenges in college sports-video production is striking the balance between athletics and academics. At Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth, the Horned Frogs seem to have found that balance.

Through a sports-broadcasting major offered by the university’s Department of Film, Television and Digital Media and an HD control room funded equally by the Athletic Department and the Bob Schieffer College of Communication, TCU has built a top-flight breeding ground for original live content and young production talent.

TCU offers a sports-broadcasting major that provides students the opportunity to work on live productions that air on Fox Sports Southwest.

TCU offers a sports-broadcasting major that provides students the opportunity to work on live productions that air on Fox Sports Southwest.

At the center of this collaboration is Mike Martin, a professor in his 18th year at the university, whose role is co-funded by both academics and athletics. In addition to teaching courses in multicamera production, single-camera production, remote sports production, producing and directing, and various other practicum classes, he also oversees the live productions of TCU athletic events and coaches shows that the university’s department does for Fox Sports Southwest.

“It works really well,” says Martin. “[Athletics and academics] are across campus from each other, so you really do have to work at staying in communication. Sometimes, it works better than other times, but, so far, everybody has been happy with the arrangement. We’re lucky.”

Under his direction, TCU has created an exclusive department of students who produce live content for the athletic department and, in turn, get academic credit. Fox Sports Southwest owns the third-tier rights to TCU athletics video content and has an arrangement with the College of Communication for those student teams to produce the vast majority of the 40 live events — volleyball, baseball, soccer, and men’s and women’s basketball — and 20 coaches shows that the network airs each year.

In addition to teaching, Martin oversees and produces all those productions. He also oversees and produces the videoboard show for all TCU home football games and the Armed Forces Bowl.

The immersive and interactive program has helped students earn job opportunities at ESPN, Fox Sports, Golf channel, American Sports Network, Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks, and other entities.

“TCU provided the unique opportunity to gain experience in live broadcasts throughout a variety of positions,” says Brad Christianson, a 2010 graduate of the program. “Not only could we gain hands-on learning time on each piece of equipment in class; we were able to put that knowledge into practice during live productions.”

Martin and TCU limit the number of students who can take part in the program. Students apply to get in and follow a curriculum of core requirements and classes. They take classes in production, the broadcast industry, and critical analysis and are required to take internships in addition to the for-credit productions they work on for TCU and Fox Sport Southwest.

“The class structure rotated students through each position, increasing our skill sets and allowing us to find roles that interested us individually,” says Christianson, who works as a freelancer in the Fort Worth area for the Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers, FC Dallas, and others. “This mindset carried me into the early part of my career. I have taken each opportunity to learn a variety of positions to make myself more flexible and valuable to a crew. For example, I got full-season home-game offers for each of the four major sports last year but held a different position with each team. Had I known only one skill, I may not have found myself so fortunate.”

A $2.6 million HD control room was co-financed by TCU Athletics and the Bob Schieffer College of Communication.

A $2.6 million HD control room was co-financed by TCU Athletics and the Bob Schieffer College of Communication.

Located in the College of Communication building, the $2.6 million HD control room is fibered across campus to venues for football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and baseball.

It features a Grass Valley Karrera switcher, a ChyronHego LEX Duet for graphics, three four-channel EVS Nanos for replay, and a Yamaha M7CL digital audio console. Under the hood, TCU deploys a Clear Com intercom system, Harris (now Imagine Communications) 72×72 video- and audio-routing switcher, and a Telecast Fiber conversion and teleport system.

For live productions, the team deploys up to six Ikegami HDK-77EC cameras with Fujinon 50X lenses and 22X ENG lenses. For editing, students use a Mac Pro NLE station.

“Resources are the biggest challenge,” Martin says. “Everyone wants more content, and a lot of people think students are the answer. But they don’t want ‘student’ quality; they want professional quality. You have to have instructors and the equipment available to teach and train the students before you unleash them on the athletic department and have them do projects.”