Q&A With Alabama Professor and BEA Member Michael Bruce

At last year’s SVG League Technology Summit (cheap plug: register now for this year’s LTS), a looming challenge was brought up numerous times by various sports-production heavyweights. It wasn’t the inevitable arrival of 4K or how ridiculously difficult it is to get WiFi in a crowded stadium. Instead, it was a genuine concern about where the next generation of sports-production professionals was coming from.

Michael Bruce, professor, Telecommunication & Film Department, University of Alabama

The reality is, sports broadcasting at the college level is in a golden age. So how does the industry go about bridging the gap between student and professional? Organizations like the Broadcast Educators Association (BEA) are trying hard to solve that riddle.

The BEA is an association of professors, professionals, and students interested in grooming future live broadcasters. As a professor at the University of Alabama’s Telecommunication & Film Department, Michael Bruce is in the trenches of preparing the next wave of sports-production professionals. In addition, he was founding chair of the BEA’s Sports Division and served as the 2011 BEA Convention Program Chair.

Earlier this month, the BEA partnered with the Sports Video Group to launch the “Runners Network,” a new staffing resource designed to make it easier for sports-production professionals to find qualified production assistants and runners to work live events.

According to Bruce, the BEA hopes to convey a simple message to the professional industry through this partnership: help us help you.

How does the new BEA/SVG Runners Network help the BEA membership?
It’s a couple of things. It gives students at our member institutions opportunities to be runners and assistants on productions for broadcasts in their area. So it gives students experience. Secondly, it gives the BEA and our member institutions visibility with the industry, which may be just as important. It’s important that they realize that there are faculty at universities who are interested in producing the next generation of sports broadcasters.

There’s concern about the future of the professional workforce in the sports-production industry. What can the professional side do to help?
I think the professionals can help themselves by identifying institutions and faculty members who have a joint interest in producing that next generation and partnering with them, whether it’s just coming by for occasional talks or helping to secure needed equipment or providing feedback on work that the schools may be producing.

What is the BEA doing to help ease those concerns about the next generation?
I think the BEA is still trying to figure that out. That’s one of the things that interest us about the partnership with SVG. We’re exploring different avenues. For example, [we are] examining the effectiveness of the academic programs and some institutions in regards to sports broadcasting. At the same time, we are really just trying to see what the industry needs in that next generation. What is the skill set that they’re really looking for? I think the BEA can be a clearinghouse for that information so that those programs or faculty that are interested in sports production can come to the BEA and find out what they need to be teaching and how they need to be preparing students.

How tough is it for the classroom environment to keep up with the rapidly changing technological world of sports broadcasting?
[Laughs] You know the answer to that question: it’s pretty difficult. One of the things that we can do, even if we don’t have the latest technological innovations, is, we can teach basic principles. You may not be able to teach the latest equipment, but you can teach basic principles that are universal to whatever equipment it is they might be using in the future. Instead of teaching how to use the latest, greatest replay system — which we may not be able to get our hands on — we can teach when and how and why it’s effective to use replays.

When working with students, how as a professor can you foster the desire to want to go into sports production as a career?
I think, probably more than anything, it’s getting them hands-on opportunities. Being at big events helps, but, when they put their hands on equipment or when they are even able to shadow somebody who is using the equipment, that seems to do more to foster that interest than anything.

Has the chaotic conference realignment been helpful or detrimental to the college-television marketplace?
With conference realignment, to some extent, we see expansion in opportunities for broadcasting. I realize some of the conference networks have been shut down, but I still think there are more opportunities than there were before. You can look at the positive side and be opportunistic.

To learn more about the Broadcast Education Association, its mission, and its member institutions, visit www.beaweb.org. To access the new “Runners Network,” visit www.sportsvideo.org/runners.

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