Colleges Scramble to Meet Demand for Video Production Expertise

By Carolyn Braff

A few years ago the only time college athletics departments picked up a video camera was to help coaches gain a competitive advantage on the field. But today schools have a new challenge: maintain a competitive advantage in streaming press conferences, players profiles, and more in an effort to maintain a competitive advantage off the field with alumni, students, and parents of athletes.

“Streaming has gone from cutting edge to common place and schools are expected to keep up just to stay competitive,” explains Mark Fratto, associate athletics director for communications at St. John’s University. “The responsibility falls on people like us, from the sports information office, who don’t have backgrounds in television or broadcasting or Internet, so we have to be experts in a little bit of everything.”

Once digital streaming emerged as a relatively simple source of revenue and exposure, most schools turned to the only person on staff familiar with video – the sports information director for football – to run the streaming operations. However, using a handheld camera to capture film for coaches’ eyes is quite different from operating a Newtek TriCaster to create a stream for mass consumption, so SIDs across the country have been learning on the fly.

When Roger Dunaway arrived at Tulane University as the assistant athletic director for athletics communications, the school’s video department was dedicated solely to coaches’ film, so he had to build his streaming operation from scratch. Thankfully he had some help. “Conference USA, in an effort to help all the schools out, provided us with a laptop and a camera, but I had no idea how to use them,” Dunaway says. Conference USA also offers training to help Dunaway and others get comfortable with production.

When it comes to producing events, most SIDs-turned-videographers are left alone at the helm. Mike Bilbow, video production manager at the University of Tulsa, employs students and local freelancers to help operate the cameras, but he has more staffing flexibility than many of his counterparts.

John Antonik, director of new media at the University of West Virginia, personally streamed all of the events that WVU offered on its website last year, not because he was technologically savvy in using the equipment, but because there was no one else available to do it.

“I learned by turning on the equipment and figuring it out,” Antonik explains. “When I started doing this back in 1999, my computer expertise was limited, so I had to just grab the manual and go.”

Universities like West Virginia that have broadcasting or journalism schools on campus have a slight advantage, as they can hire students from those programs to help with sports productions. Many other schools, including Notre Dame, make do without such resources.

“We do have a staff of students that help us out,” says Alan Wasielewski, director of digital media for Notre Dame Sports Properties. “We get everything up and running and let them run the TriCaster, do the switching and run the camera. It’s difficult to find people who are artful with camerawork, so most are just point-and-shoot operations.”

When Wasielewski was brought over from the University’s sports information office to Notre Dame Sports Properties, he was given a new title. And like many schools, staff size is the biggest barrier to expanding their digital offerings. “Last year we hired an additional guy and next year we’ll be looking to make more personnel moves,” Wasielewski says.

“When it comes to video highlights and the packages that we produce, the SID doesn’t have time to be cutting down and logging all sorts of video,” Fratto says. “You have to find students who are excited about that and who can learn the software.”

At Tulane, the school’s digital output is severely restricted by its small staff, so every streamed event is designed to rely on a minimal number of operators. Basketball streams require just one person while volleyball can be done automatically, once the camera is put in place.

“The main challenge for us is having the people to run it,” says Travis Detillier, director of video operations for Tulane. “For basketball, what we’re streaming is our coaches’ video – it’s not what you would do for TV. There are no close-ups; you have to stay wide and take everything in.”

Baseball is Tulane’s most complicated production and requires three operators, and only two if no replay is required.

“Coming out of past experiences in the sports information office, the IT and TV production aspect is not necessarily part of our job description,” Fratto says, “but it’s becoming that. “You basically learn from your friends; nobody teaches you how to do it. You have to have young, energetic people that really want to wrap their arms around it and make it go.”

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