If you've watched Northern Kentucky University basketball games on ESPN3 – or Cincinnati CW Channel 12.2 – you probably didn't know that NKU students are producing the telecasts.
"We usually have around 16 students doing everything from graphics, audio, instant replay, floor directing and all of our cameras," says Wes Akers, an NKU Electronic Media and Broadcasting teacher who directs the telecasts.
"The students here learn how to do it in the classroom, and then they do it during the games," Akers says.
Akers wanted viewers to know about NKU students' accomplishments before the season ends. They telecast their final NKU home basketball game at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 19, against Youngstown State University on ESPN3. The only professionals involved with the productions are Akers as director, engineer Bill Farro, and announcers Brady Laber and Brad Redford.
"Students are receiving academic credit as part of a Sports Media Production class I teach, or they are hired as student workers who do some of the advanced positions within the production truck," he says.
Farro and Akers were NKU classmates in the mid-1990s, when students did live sports telecasts on Northern Kentucky cable TV systems. After years of continuing the tradition, Farro and Akers took the NKU sports productions to a new level when NKU's Atlantic Sun Conference "required schools to have a production truck technically compliant so that the schools in the conference could have their games on ESPN3," Akers says.
"ESPN built our production truck about four years ago. That was great for us. We always said we needed better equipment for our students," he says.
When the Norse moved up to Division 1, and hosted Bob Huggins' West Virginia University Mountaineers in December 2014, ESPN audience research showed that nearly 25,000 people watched the game on ESPN3. "That's a lot of people watching a class project," he says.
This season was the first time the student productions were seen on live broadcast TV, five games on Channel 12.2. When the Norse hosted the University of Illinois-Chicago, the telecast was fed to Chicago's NBC Sports Channel, ESPN3 and Channel 12.2.
"I had a student producer on the telephone giving live countdowns to all three entities. My student handled it just fine. She was fantastic," says Akers, who has worked for Fox Sports Ohio or ESPN on Reds, Bengals, Columbus Bluejackets and many college sports telecasts. He has been teaching full-time at NKU since 2004.
"It's really amazing what these kids can do. They truly run the show and determine the story lines and make sure all of the promotional material and sponsored elements appear. Our student producers Katherine Vieth and Sam Stephenson (both seniors) manage to keep everyone happy and run a clean show," he says.
Fifteen years ago, Akers and Farro had a goal of making student productions look like ESPN.
"Never in a million years could I have imagined that someday ESPN would actually want to televise our student-produced games," he says.