By UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
This year marked the ninth-straight year students from three Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) member universities joined forces to bring live MIAA men’s and women’s basketball tournament action from Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City to the world.
This year’s broadcast and in-game media responsibilities had Pittsburg State University (PSU) and Fort Hays State University (FHSU) students producing the live video stream of each game and University of Central Missouri (UCM) students running the two large video scoreboards in the facility.
Preparation for this year’s tournament broadcast began in December.
Tuesday night and Wednesday morning before the tournament, students from the three schools met for the first time. Everyone had to quickly adapt to working with people from different backgrounds, with different skill sets and approaches to digital media production, and who were complete strangers just days before.
“Recognizing that live event production is an art and different directors want different shots, graphics, replays, etc., and the production team will have to adapt on the fly,” said Troy Comeau of PSU, whose multimedia journalism students comprised the contingent from his university.
Another challenge the students faced was a grueling daily production schedule during the five days of tournament play.
“These are long days, and they are typically there from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day. You never hear them complain; most have smiles on their faces. And their broadcast and videoboard production gets smoother each game. It really is like watching a championship team come together,” said Marshall Fey, the MIAA’s assistant commissioner for external affairs.
Faculty members from each of the three universities are on-hand to support the students throughout the project, but it is an entirely student-led effort. Students are not paid hourly for their time at the tournament, but they did receive a gift card from the MIAA for their work.
“If something breaks or a student needs help, one of us will jump in. But otherwise, once things got going, we let the students do their work,” said Russell Heitmann, the news and sports director for Tiger Media Network. “I think this speaks to the talent of the crew that all three schools bring to the project.”
The majority of the experience Darin Plummer’s students from UCM accumulated prior to coming to Kansas City was in the area of live game broadcasts. During the tournament, most of their work was dedicated to managing the large video scoreboards in the facility from a production truck outside the auditorium.
Video scoreboard production is different from game broadcasting. Plummer’s students needed to quickly adapt to working in a remote location with many different camera angles and embracing the role of shooting behind-the-scenes action, including coach, player and fan reactions, and keeping fans in the auditorium engaged during breaks in the action.
“It’s just awesome to see students get so involved,” Plummer said. “I think this speaks volumes about their commitment to the field of broadcasting.”
At Fort Hays, students are tasked with live game production, as well as videoboard production also during the regular season.
FHSU, PSU and UCM students shared on-air, play-by-play duties during the tournament’s first three days. On Thursday, nearing the completion of his tournament broadcast duties for the week, FHSU play-by-play commentator Cayden Sanders approached Marshall Fey to thank him for the opportunity.
Fey shocked Sanders by asking if he was interested in calling the women’s semifinal and championship games Saturday and Sunday. Fey also informed Sanders he would be working with analyst Jill Dorsey Hall, an experienced ESPN volleyball and basketball analyst. It was an honor for Sanders, and he immediately accepted the offer. An hour before game time, Sanders met Dorsey Hall for the first time.
“I told her I had only been calling games for around six months and that I would probably be nervous,” Sanders said.
The pro quickly and selflessly took Sanders under her wing and taught him how to communicate non-verbally with hand gestures so their transitions would be smooth. She also used time during breaks to offer suggestions to improve the viewer experience.
It also marked another FHSU student who called a championship game at the MIAA tourney since at least 2020.
For the students and their faculty mentors, the long and challenging championship week came to a close late Sunday evening.
“All of our students benefitted from this experience. They were forced to work in an environment, and with people, they weren’t familiar with in a workday that is longer and more intense than anything they face back home,” Heitmann said.
Fey believes the student media experience mirrors what the MIAA works to provide for the schools they serve.
“For the students, I think this is an opportunity to showcase what they’ve been doing on their campuses all year,” he said. “Just like our student-athletes who practice and play in regular-season games, our students are living this production. Giving them an opportunity to shine on a championship stage is a great mirror for what we challenge our student-athletes to do when it comes to postseason play.”