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Students involved with the ESPN team are trained on manning camera for broadcasts televised on ESPN, video board footage and instant replays.


UNI connects and trains students with ESPN live sports broadcasting 

Whether seeing dazzling graphics on their own television during a UNI game on ESPN or watching clips of spirited fans displayed on the video board in the UNI-Dome during a football game, Panther fans can always expect a high quality live sports experience.

Who makes up the team that makes the magic happen behind the scenes? 

A lot of the workers, whether manning cameras or working in the control room, are UNI students.

The Department of Communication and Media offers students, no matter their major or experience level, an opportunity to work on live sports broadcasts with the ESPN team.

As communication and media professor Eric Braley explained, each school in the Missouri Valley Conference is required to do a certain number of broadcasts each year.

“The Valley has a deal with ESPN that says [ESPN] will provide a large number of broadcasts per year, and each school has to produce their own broadcasts,” Braley said.

As a result, UNI has capitalized on the provided ESPN broadcasts by giving students real-world experience working on live sports for a major network.

“We train students to be directors, producers, audio, instant replay, announcers and camera operators,” he said. “There’s about 14 positions on a typical broadcast.” 

Students are trained on cameras and in control room operations, such as directors who decide which camera feed to display, producers who communicate what graphics or commercial breaks to run and instant replay workers who quickly gather and prepare footage to be shown after an important play.

“It’s a hybrid mix between students in these important roles and some former students who are paid freelancers to teach and help them out,” he said.

In a typical week, the team produces three to four broadcasts. However, as is characteristic of live sports, anything can happen. Braley said that during the UNI softball tournament in the UNI-Dome this past February, they did 16 broadcasts in one weekend.

The opportunity to work on ESPN broadcasts is available to students from any background and from any experience level.

“We have had music majors, we have had public relations majors and we have had digital media production students who are actually majoring in it,” Braley said.

Students can also receive an applied media credit for working games. They are required to work 13 events over the course of the semester and then receive a letter grade and one credit hour. Students also often participate for multiple semesters.

Although UNI is not the only university to offer live sports production experience, Braley believes the emphasis on education in the program sets UNI apart.

“The feedback we’ve gotten is that we are one of the best schools in the Missouri Valley Conference at quality production because we work really hard and teach it as a class, and students get that hands-on experience working on it,” he said.

Junior digital media production major Emma Criswell manned the wireless camera at the UNI home football game Sept. 17.

“I was holding a camera for like four hours running around the field and running around the student section, and it was a lot of fun,” she said. “I was a little sore, but I think it’s a really good time to be able to interact with people and not just stand behind the camera.”

When Criswell heard about the opportunity to work with the ESPN team while she was enrolled in one of Braley’s classes, she had had some prior experience making videos for sports teams in high school, but had never worked on a live broadcast.

“I would say honestly this has probably been the best opportunity I have ever gotten being at UNI because it opens you up to those connections to people in the sports industry and people doing the producing for ESPN,” Criswell said. “It’s on your resume. I’ve done stuff for ESPN before. I’ve done producing. I‘ve done the camera work.”

Braley echoed the difference this hands-on experience can have on future careers saying, “We have had students who have graduated and now work in the NBA. They work in the NFL. They run the ESPN programs at other colleges and universities across the country.”

Andrew Levesque is a 2019 UNI graduate who now serves as the Coordinator of Video Production at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

Levesque said that he had his very first college class his freshman year, an 8 a.m. on a Monday, with Braley. After hearing Braley talk about the opportunities available in sports broadcasting on campus, the rest was history.

“When I was able to start producing, which was basically running the graphics and helping coordinate the broadcasts, I really enjoyed doing that,” Levesque said. “That’s when I kind of realized that this was a career that I wanted to pursue.”

Levesque spent a total of three years working with the ESPN team.

Now he runs the ESPN Plus productions at UW Milwaukee, hiring and coordinating his own student staff just like the one he was a part of at UNI.

“I never would have been in a position to do this if it wasn’t for my time at UNI because not only is that what made me realize that this is what I want to do for a career, but it also gave me a ton of really good experience to put on my resume before I’d even graduated,” he said.

“By the time I had graduated, I already had a good few years of real production experience, and that made it so I could jump straight into a graduate assistant position where I was already running broadcasts at a Division I institution,” he continued. “That never would have happened if I didn’t get the quality experience that I had at Northern Iowa.”

For David Warrington, a senior digital media journalism major, working with the ESPN team has also begun to turn a dream into reality.  

After having class with Braley, Warrington mentioned his interest and past experience as a play-by-play announcer. Soon enough, he was announcing at the UNI softball tournament last February, which has given way to even more announcing opportunities with UNI athletics and ESPN.

When asked about the impact working with the ESPN team has had on him, Warrington said, “It’s huge. I didn’t really know if I could make it as a play-by-play announcer before I took this opportunity, and now with this awesome experience, I have zero question that I’ll be able to find something once I get out of school to get into play-by-play announcing.”

“It’s completely changed my career outlook,” he said.

“I would say for any students that are interested in sports, or production for that matter, it really is a good opportunity,” he added. “Those ESPN letters on your resume, that looks great, no matter what you’re doing or how much experience you have.”

Braley said that they always have spots available for anyone looking to get involved, and they work with students’ schedules when assigning events to work at.

“Live sports is a wonderful field to go into,” Braley said, “It’s tons of fun. It is competitive, but by having these experiences, it just opens up so many doors and opportunities after graduation.”

Students interested in learning more can contact Eric Braley at [email protected].