Middle Tennessee Students Producing Games for ESPN360

When the men’s and women’s basketball teams from Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and South Alabama face off this weekend, the games will be available on ESPN360 and ESPN Full Court, thanks to a production team made up entirely of MTSU students studying mass communications. The Feb. 20 and 21 games mark a return to ESPN360 for the MTSU crew, which provided similar coverage for two football games last fall.

According to Marc Parrish, MTSU director of technical systems, the opportunity first arose when Assistant Athletic Director Mark Owens approached ESPN in the fall.

“He asked [us] if we would be interested in the class producing a game for ESPN360 and ESPN Game Plan,” Parrish recalls.  “I said, ‘Yeah!’”

MTSU operates a 40-foot truck that carries 5 Ikegami HL53 cameras, a Grass Valley 250 switcher and related Beta decks and slo mo. The mobile unit is used almost exclusively for student-run productions, including a recent series of shoots at the Kennedy Space Center for a PBS program.

Prior to the fall ESPN360 productions, the truck was used for school coverage of a few football, basketball, softball games, and tennis matches.

“When we [do those] games, the students really can’t produce,” Parrish explains. “They have no control over [the game].”  For the ESPN360 telecasts the students “have complete control over the game – timeouts, the rundown.”

With the football games and the upcoming basketball telecasts, the student crew controls the game, including TV time outs.  The only non-student participation is the announcers, usually MTSU alumni. For this weekend’s basketball games, MTSU radio host Chip Walters will handle play-by-play, joined by former MTSU basketball coach Andy Herzer.

In addition to duties of producer, director, technical director and truck and camera crew, MTSU students from the school’s animation lab create graphics packages for the games.

The MTSU truck was built in 1992. Recently, the unit has been undergoing a transition to HD, with the addition of two Compix character generators, a Yamaha VM200 audio board, and new LCD screens. The school’s production studio is fully HD, featuring Sony HDC-1400 cameras. Parrish says that as equipment ages on the truck and needs to be replaced, the unit will continue its migration to high definition.

While the truck is occasionally used for non-school productions – it will be used for Nashville’s Channel 2 Ronald McDonald telethon – Parrish stresses that it exists for student use and education.

He emphatically says, “the truck won’t go out without a student crew.”

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