College Sports-Production Courses Lean on Athletic Departments

By Carolyn Braff

Many colleges across the country offer sports-journalism courses and introductory-video seminars, but few combine those skills, much less integrate them with the athletic department. Thanks to NBC and CBS Sports veteran Paul Hammons, however, three more schools will soon be offering courses that do just that: teach sports-media production in conjunction with the resources available in the athletic department.

“The idea that came to me was finding a niche,” explains Hammons, who currently teaches the Sports Media Production course at Ohlone Community College in Fremont, CA, and will soon be teaching similar courses at Santa Clara University and Bellarmine College Preparatory high school as well. “Most schools have After Effects and Photoshop classes, but I saw very few that focus on the university using the school’s athletic department as a content source.”

After retiring from his sports-broadcasting career, Hammons moved to California, where a conversation with SVG Advisory Board member Russell Gabay, VP and executive producer at Major League Baseball International, sparked the idea for his course pitch.

“Russ said a lot of production companies don’t have kids who can go out and do field work,” Hammons says. “They can sit at a computer and do Final Cut, but, to go out and produce a sports event out in the field, there’s not that big a pool of talented people.”

With an extensive background in editing, shooting, graphics, and producing, Hammons set about to increase that pool, putting together a syllabus that teaches students the ins and outs of advanced sports-media production. The course includes units on graphics use and design, production for major media outlets and league-owned properties, and live-event production, although currently Hammons focuses more on postproduction than on live-event production, which enables him to work with existing equipment, rather than require the construction of a live-production studio.

The key to the course — and to his pitch to the college — is its integration with the athletic department.

“In an era of win-win situations, when you give me access to coaches and players, they get exposure on how to deal with the media, the kids see their stuff on the Web, and the students get the advantage of learning how to cover games,” Hammons says. “It’s not meant to be a PR device for the school necessarily, but the schools really see the cross-platform value in it.”

Because Hammons requires field production, camera work, and graphics experience as prerequisites for his course, he is able to dive right into technical production. Within two weeks of his first class taught at Ohlone, the students live-streamed a basketball game, complete with graphics from a Chyron Lyric.

“We used three Sony 300 cameras and two switchers,” he explains. “Because we were so rushed in putting this together, we went on the air without a rehearsal. The six-input switcher I had could do picture-in-picture, dissolves, and wipes, but without a rehearsal, we basically did it straight-cut, and it worked out pretty well.”

As is the case at nearly all college athletic departments, Ohlone works on a tight budget, so its athletic venues are not wired. Hammons has access to four cameras for live-event production, but, because there’s no proper wiring into the broadcast studio, he and his students must carry all of the gear out to the field of play.

The athletic department has been extremely supportive of Hammons’s program, even planning to build a center-field platform that students can use for baseball coverage, but he will need some new lenses to take advantage of that. Still, when it comes to equipment, he says, Ohlone is generally far ahead of the curve.

The final exam in his class is a full sports broadcast, with highlight packages serving as interim tests. Content produced in the Sports Media Production course is aired on the local Comcast PEG channel, so the students get some exposure for their work. Hammons is looking into streaming more content as well, but he will need increased bandwidth to “get it out and get it out clean.”

If he has his way, this production course will split into two, one focused on live-event field production and the other on postproduction.

“I hope we can keep going forward with it,” Hammons says. “I hope that the ability for us to build educationally based sports-network divisions at schools will be a positive thing for the university; help boosters, alumni, athletes; and hopefully, help my students get jobs. Broadcasting doesn’t necessarily mean only television anymore, so I hope that synergy happens, too.”

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