CSMA Master Class: Ball State Sports Link’s 3rd Down Chirp Grows from Student Idea to Nationally Syndicated Show

Since its inception, the College Sports Media Awards have recognized the best in the college-sports-production arena. As technology and production techniques improve, the ability to create high-quality video on any budget has proliferated significantly. At the College Sports Video Summit in June, 16 productions were honored for their contribution to sports video. Each Friday this summer, SVG is proud to offer an in-depth look at the personalities and programs that have raised the bar for what college sports video is capable of.



When soon-to-be-senior and Ball State Sports Link staffer Ben Wagner was racking his brain over a concept for a football show in his Muncie, IN, apartment during the summer of 2011, he never imagined what his idea would become in just a few short months.

Ball State Sports Link student staffers produced 3rd Down Chirp, a weekly program covering Ball State football.

During his years at Ball State, Wagner had grown into a big Cardinals football fan. Knowing his work at Sports Link gave him a unique opportunity, he brainstormed on how the organization could better work with the blossoming football program.

Thus was born the concept of 3rd Down Chirp, a weekly show breaking down everything Ball State football throughout the season. The show quickly grew in popularity, picking up homes online and on a national television network.

The show also took home the College Sports Media Award for Best Program Series in the Collegiate Student division at SVG’s College Sports Video Summit in June. In less than a year, something as simple as an idea in the mind of a student was receiving national accolades

“It was one of the most visible things we did as a program last year,” says Chris Taylor, instructor, telecommunications sports, at Ball State. “It was important because it was the first thing we did last year for football season and it carried us over to having a really good year.”

From the Ground Up
Taylor is an idea guy, the type who thrives on developing his own and fostering them in his students.

“I’m not a ‘no guy’ unless I have to be,” he tells them.

Kyle Binder (left) and Chris Wagner accepted the award for 3rd Down Chirp at the College Sports Media Awards in June.

So when Wagner came to him with an idea for a weekly football show, Taylor did his part to help make it happen, pitching the idea to the Ball State athletics department.

The Cardinals football team was entering the 2011 season under new head coach Pete Lembo. Taylor and Wagner met with Lembo to present the idea, and the coach gave his seal of approval.

“We always wanted to do some sort of a football show,” says Taylor. “With the coaching change that happened, we felt that was a good time to try to do some new things.”

When Ball State’s athletics and marketing department secured a presenting sponsorship from Papa John’s, the show had some financial legs. Taylor then spoke with Comcast and Fox College Sports Network, two of Sports Link’s closest partners that typically air some of its content, and worked out an agreement for them to pick up the show for the football season.

“It was literally an idea I came up with in my apartment,” says Wagner, who is currently working at Turner Sports’ NCAA Digital department in Atlanta. “To see your idea come to form in a full 30-minute show and be aired nationally is a tremendous step. I am very humbled and proud of what it turned into.”

Sports Link produced 12 weekly episodes of 3rd Down Chirp. Half of them were filmed in-studio for Ball State’s public-access channel WIPB, local Comcast affiliates, Fox College Sports Network, and the Web. The other six were Web-exclusives and were shot on-site at Scheumann Stadium.

Sports Link designed a virtual set for 3rd Down Chirp using Orad’s virtual studio and HDVG platform.

For its studio shows, the Sports Link staff used Orad’s ProSet virtual studio and HDVG (high-definition digital video graphics) platform to design a set. From there, the crew used Sports Link’s usual stock of Sony X3 cameras to shoot to show.

Although all student members of Sports Link contributed content to the show, a typical night of shooting featured a seven- to eight-person crew, including Wagner, an associate producer, two camera operators, and three on-camera analysts.

“I didn’t have any experience with studio shows and creating them,” says Wagner. “Just learning what I need to plan [and] all the schools I need to contact for footage was huge. I basically had to think two weeks ahead to make sure the show is ready. There was something new I was learning every week.”

Moving On
Wagner and one of the show’s regular hosts, Kyle Binder, graduated from Ball State in May, but 3rd Down Chirp will live on this fall at Sports Link.

The show returns Aug. 30 with a Web-only episode to celebrate the start of the Ball State season; the Cardinals open their season at home against Eastern Michigan that night. 3rd Down Chirp returns to television on Sept. 26. All the same TV outlets and sponsors are back for year two.

Wagner says he’s looking forward to watching this season. The show he began developing in his apartment ventures on without him, but he feels confident that the foundation has been laid for a new generation of Sports Link talent to take the reins.

“I would tell them to try new things and put yourself in situations where you don’t feel comfortable, so you learn,” he says. “There’s going to be some mistakes; I know I made a lot of mistakes early on. But, as long as you learn and can get better and make the show better every week, that’s the ultimate goal.”

Catch the CSMA Master Class series and check out the complete list of CSMA winners. For more on the College Sports Video Summit, visit www.csvsummit.com.

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