Many students are avid Wolverine fans, frequenting University sporting events to cheer on the teams. But one group of University students has taken this spectatorship to a new level.
About 30 students have taken their game day viewing experience to the small screen. Through a collaboration with the Big Ten Network over the past year, a group of students working with WOLV-TV has broadcast live sporting events at the University for observers around the nation.
WOLV-TV — the University’s student-run television program — entered a production agreement with the Big Ten Network’s Student U productions company last spring.
The University is the only Big Ten school to develop entirely student-run productions for the network. LSA Senior Alex Prasad, the general manager of the program, said it’s “cool, but challenging” because everything they do is self-taught.
Prasad works with three co-producers and a group of students to stream live sporting events for the network’s website. The group covers about 60 sporting events during the school year, and almost all of the events are televised on the network a few days after they stream online, according to Prasad.
Bruce Madej, the University’s associate athletic director for special projects, is the liaison between the University’s Athletic Department and the Big Ten Network. He said though the University doesn’t have a broadcasting program, a partnership with the network provides a real-world environment for students to learn about broadcast journalism.
“What has been really fun for me is to be able to see individuals getting a background in a profession that they’re interested in and have fun while they’re doing it,” Madej said. “It really is fun to watch them.”
The students mainly cover home games of non-revenue sports, including men’s soccer and baseball and women’s soccer, basketball and softball. This year, they’ve covered all women’s home basketball games except for last Sunday’s matchup against Purdue. Prasad said this coverage has been an important factor in increasing viewership of women’s sports at the University.
“That’s an exposure women’s basketball has never seen before,” Prasad said.
Though they did cover a few men’s basketball and ice hockey games this year, Prasad said students don’t usually cover football, basketball or hockey because the Big Ten Network typically covers them on their own, using a satellite truck costing nearly $30,000.
To reduce the cost of using the truck, the Big Ten Network offers student producers at Big Ten schools what they call “fly packs” — production equipment that connects the network and the conference schools for data sharing. This makes high quality production equipment more accessible to student producers, and it costs “infinitely less” than using the satellite truck, Prasad said.
Rex Arends, the director of university technical operations for the Big Ten Network, wrote in an e-mail interview that the technology provides efficient, high quality video footage and facilitates open lines of communication between the schools and the network.
“The bandwidth is huge, and we can send true HD video down it with very little compression,” Arends wrote. “It also is bidirectional, which means we can receive video and communication from students working on live sporting events and we can communicate back to them and oversee their production from Chicago.”
The technology allows students to learn how to broadcast sporting events in a professional setting, he wrote.
“The students produce live sporting events just like we do at the network,” Arends wrote. “They produce, direct, run camera … from start to finish, including play-by-play and analyst announcers. They have learned well how to do this and the product continues to get better and exceed expectations.”
When Prasad and his crew first started working with the network last year, they were asked to film six baseball and softball events, which streamed online. Once the students expressed a desire to do more reporting, Madej said he convinced the network to let them produce more games.
“Because of the passion the students have for it, we really have some of the best student broadcasting on the Big Ten Network,” Madej said.
Arends said he is “continually impressed” with the students’ broadcasts, especially since they develop the programs on their own.
“At most of the schools, we have a video service liaison that oversees the process,” Arends wrote. “At (Michigan), it is completely run by students, and they do an amazing job.”
Though students aren’t able to take courses in broadcast journalism at the University, Prasad said working with the Big Ten Network is a better learning experience than what is offered by university broadcast programs, like the one at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
“Nowhere at Syracuse (University) can you say to the students that their work is being viewed in over 70 million households nationwide,” Prasad said.