Austin Peay Sports Production Program A Winner

By Carolyn Braff

For the 9,000 students at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN, sports broadcasting is more than an extra-curricular hobby – it’s on the verge of becoming a full-time major. Austin Peay’s sports broadcasting concentration (which is expected to be approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents this fall) enables students in the Department of Communication to spend their undergraduate years learning to produce every game contested on their NCAA Division I campus, taking charge of what effectively becomes their own production company from August through May.

“As soon as they step on campus, the students get four years of experience producing every single sporting event we have on campus,” explains Caroline Sawyer Downes, instructor of sports broadcasting at Austin Peay. “They come up with a production plan, produce it, direct it and come up with all the content. I touch the equipment the first month of the season; after that, it’s all student-run.”

Students produce video board, live-to-television and streaming feeds for football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball and softball, along with Sports News Austin Peay, a weekly sports news show. The students’ content is sent via fiber to the master control room, where students stream it through the Ohio Valley Conference’s JumpTV-run streaming service,, and send it via cable to two local television stations.

“Our philosophy is that while it is student work, it has to be a high level of student work for us to put it on air,” Sawyer Downes explains. “If it doesn’t look good, we’re not going to run it.”

Helping to make every show look good is the program’s commitment to keeping its production equipment up to date, despite the budget limitations imposed on a small state university.

“We actually don’t have a budget for this program,” Sawyer Downes explains, noting that her equipment research process consists of her own trips to trade shows and talks with colleagues at other universities. “We try to spend our money the best way we can to give them something as close to industry standard as we can get for a small university.”

The program recently switched from Panasonic MX70 switchers to two Broadcast Pix studios, complete with a Dodge Sprinter production truck equipped by Frontline Communications. The Broadcast Pix system includes character overlay capabilities, but students pre-load additional graphics options through Click Effects and use a Mackie sound mixer.

“We love the Broadcast Pix system because it gives a student a chance to multitask,” says Sawyer Downes.“We actually let one student do the whole thing, so they’re updating the score, doing all of the graphics and switching all at the same time.”

Students use up to six JVC GY550 cameras for football broadcasts and up to 12 cameras for basketball streams, including six Sony robotic cameras placed on the basket and above the goal. JVC 250HD Pro cameras are also being integrated into the mix as Austin Peay moves to HD.

For internal video board feeds, students have the advantage of working with two different systems – a Barco video board for basketball and volleyball games and a Daktronics system for football.

“Our students get to work with the two major video board manufacturers, so they understand that there are different ways to do things,” Sawyer Downs says. “They get experience in all of it. We’re teaching Avid, Adobe Premiere and Final Cut in the edit team; we’ve also got After Effects and Motion being taught. We want them to know how to do everything, so that they’re very marketable.”

Students rotate through various positions while in the program, learning to run a camera, set up audio, work instant replay, graphics, video board overlays, switching and navigate the streaming software.

Among the sports broadcasting course offerings at Austin Peay are a theory-based sports and media course, sports interviewing, sports marketing and the sports broadcasting workshop that puts students in charge of their own productions. Each class can accommodate 30 students and the broadcasting workshop is charged with producing at least three events each week.

“It’s hard when you’re a small school of this size to get beyond your local immediate area, but for where we are and what we’re doing, we’re making a mark in the academic world and the professional world,” Sawyer Downes says. “I’m one of those professors that I can’t stand sitting in a classroom and talking about it. If they can’t touch what we’re talking about, then they’re never going to understand it.”

At Austin Peay, touching and understanding go hand in hand as students prove daily that great broadcasting programs can come in small university packages.

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