When it comes to college athletics many people have a notion that there is a separation from the rest of the university, that both operate in their own worlds and never intersect. However, Eastern Kentucky University athletics has turned its basketball arena into the largest classroom on campus. At EKU, academics and athletics intersect at McBrayer Arena.
Through a partnership between Colonel athletics and the department of communication, McBrayer Arena becomes the classroom for the BEM 395 Video Production II class about 30 times each year. On those days, students produce television quality live broadcasts of Eastern Kentucky men’s basketball, women’s basketball and volleyball games.
The athletics department heavily relies on student help, especially in the area of video and broadcasting.
“If we do not have student help, we do not broadcast games, period,” stated Rachel Park, Director of Athletics Marketing.
The athletics and academic partnership on this specific project began more than four years ago when Kevin Britton, EKU’s Assistant Athletics Director for Communications and a graduate of the EKU department of communications, first approached his former professor, Dr. John Taylor.
“We started working with the athletic department when the Ohio Valley Conference gave each school more money to buy the equipment to do the webcasts. But, then the problem came up that now we had all of this equipment but not the personnel to operate it,” Taylor explained. “It allows our students to get ahold of equipment they will use in the real world. So it gave us a step up as far as our program goes and gives us the ability to teach pertinent work. The students get portfolio experience and experience in the field under supervision.”
Thus, the beautiful partnership began.
Students get to operate cameras during the games, manage the graphics that appear on the broadcasts, direct the games and much more. They are a key asset to making sure the broadcasts of the games on the OVC Digital Network run as smooth as possible. For most, it is trial by fire, arguably for hands-on learners, the best way to learn. A few students even get to come into the office and help out with the daily work.
David Miller, Athletics Digital Broadcast and Video Coordinator, started the “25 Dollar Club” to compensate students who wish to continue working games and gaining experience after the class has ended.
“Without the help of Dr. Taylor’s Video Production II class the streaming of our games for the OVC Digital Network would be very difficult. With just one full time person operating video for athletics, staffing a production crew of at least eight would be impossible if Dr. Taylor had not recognized the real world applications this has for his students,” Miller said. “I was part of Dr. Taylor’s first class that started staffing games and it gave me the real world knowledge to get my job here at EKU. It provides students a great opportunity to produce a live sporting event.”
This program was not designed just to help students professionally. When you delve deeper into the beginning you see the goal was also to help students get by in their personal lives.
“We have students that are making it day-to-day financially. They aren’t thinking about graduation, they’re thinking about how they are going to live tomorrow,” explained Taylor. “I once saw some students, when my office was in Alumni Coliseum, digging through boxes of cold pizza. I then realized that we have students who are hungry. My deal with the athletic department, that has worked out very well, is work for food. Not everyone needs food but college students don’t pass up free food usually, and they know that if they work games they will eat those nights.”
While some will still believe athletics and academics can’t benefit from each other, others see when that mindset is dropped the two can greatly benefit and impact each other.
“I feel that working all of those games gave me a lot of valuable experience that I can now relay to my current career,” commented former student Bryan Dykes, a news videographer at WKRC-TV in Cincinnati, Ohio. “One of the most important traits I learned was how to work professionally. It was a hands on experience I needed and wanted, and it was far better than being stuck in a classroom.”
If it was not for this great partnership athletics would not be able to do what they do. Nor would students be able to get the crucial experience necessary for their careers.
“If it wasn’t for athletics I probably would never have gotten a job,” said Seth Graham, a 2015 EKU graduate, former video student and current photojournalist for WLEX 18. “It taught me so much about live production and put me ahead of the game for someone fresh out of college.”
With the addition of new baseball and softball facilities on campus, the athletics department hopes that this partnership with the department of communications can grow to include broadcasts of those games as well.