Sam Houston State’s Bearkat Sports Network Continues Rapid Growth

In many ways, Jason Barfield is like the head coach of a budding college athletics program. The media services coordinator at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, may not have a win-loss record, but he game-plans, recruits, and works to appease an alumni fan base.

Bearkat Sports Network has streamed over 300 live games since its debut in 2008.

Bearkat Sports Network (BSN), a subscription-based video service available on the athletic department’s official Website, has blossomed from a pet project to an online force that, this year, celebrated its 300th live broadcast with the streaming of a baseball game between Sam Houston State and Texas A&M.

The key to BSN’s growing success is Barfield’s strong, established relationship with Sam Houston’s successful Mass Communications Department. He hosts a show for the on-campus television station that is produced by students in the Mass Comm department. It’s from there that Barfield picks students with the talent, drive, and work ethic to be paid to work on the live streams.

In addition to the live broadcasts, BSN also produces a wealth of on-demand content. This school year alone, about 225 preproduced videos (interviews, press conferences, features) were posted to the Bearkats’ Website and BSN’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

“A lot of other schools have more people that can work on this kind of stuff,” says Daniel Becker, a recent graduate of SHSU who worked with BSN during the past three years, “but what Jason has been able to do with just a few students is pretty impressive.”

Humble Beginnings
The Bearkat Sports Network debuted with its first live broadcast on Jan. 8, 2008. The men’s basketball game against Nicholls State was streamed using a single camera fed into a laptop through a Canopus converter.

“It was so bad,” laughs Barfield. “It sounded awful. It sounded like we were broadcasting inside of a tin can. When I go back and look at some of the early stuff we did, I just think, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we were putting that out on the Web.’ We’ve come so far.”

BSN produces live streams of Sam Houston State basketball, football, baseball, and volleyball games.

Barfield, a sports information director at Sam Houston State in 2008, had a background in television and radio and pushed for the school’s athletic department to stream its games. In order to gain exposure for the productions, Barfield began posting pieces to YouTube, and the athletic department did a redesign on its Website so as to display the video offerings more prominently.

With Barfield taking the reins on the project, the broadcasts have expanded from its single-camera beginnings to multicamera productions with enhanced audio, graphics, and replays.

“We finally have headsets now,” cracks Becker, a native of Conroe, TX. “I have been bugging Jason about them for about two years. We got the football coaches’ spare headsets, so we can actually talk to our cameramen.”

Today, the Bearkat Sports Network broadcast team works through the NewTek TriCaster 850 Extreme, using the system’s Time Warp replay system and built-in graphics engine.

“Four years ago, we were one of the first schools in the Southland to offer live video streaming of our home sporting events,” said SHSU Director of Athletics Bobby Williams in a release marking the 300th broadcast. “That is an area we feel very strongly about and are always looking to expand and improve the product to enhance our fans’ experience of Bearkat athletics.”

Student Training Ground
BSN is nearly a completely student-run operation working under the Sports Information Department. Barfield worked with an eight-person student staff, which is pretty tight when you consider that it typically takes seven crewmembers for an average basketball or baseball broadcast.

A typical Bearkat Sports Network broadcast is staffed by seven to eight students.

Nearly 30 students from the Mass Communications Department have worked on BSN over the past four years. This year’s crew was comprised of graduating seniors Meagan Lee, Chelsea Davis, Cody Heflin, and Becker; juniors Ryan Haberern and Lorenzo Tolbert; and sophomore Jake Dauzat. Also, Eric Schrader, who worked over two years and graduated in December, was a member of the BSN team before accepting an internship with the Arkansas Travelers (Double-A baseball affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim).

With Barfield serving as the on-air announcer, students get the chance to serve in all types of production roles, including director, technical director, camera operator, and replay technician. That type of hands-on experience has proved invaluable to students leaving the program looking to work professionally in the live-broadcasting field.

“One thing I do like about working here is, Jason is willing to let us do things and he’s willing to let us try new things,” says Becker. “If it fails, we won’t do it again, but, if it looks like it could work out, we will try it again and make it better. He’s not afraid to let us experiment with different things.”

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