Entrance Torch

Big-Time Air Time: Valpo Students Get Unrivaled Experience in Sports Broadcasting on ESPN

As a junior at Valpo, Eric Ruzanski ’20 is already a few leagues ahead of the game. Together with VUTV Faculty Advisor Ron Blatz and other key faculty members, he manages a team of 31 students that films University athletic events and streams them to The Valley on ESPN.

You can usually find Eric in the control room, supervising everything from graphics to audio. He also spends time on the playing field, mentoring new team members on how to nail the zoom feature. And he’s of course been behind the lens, capturing those money shots himself. These types of hands-on responsibilities epitomize Valpo’s commitment to experiential learning — invaluable opportunities for students to leap beyond the classroom into real-life situations that prepare them for the world after graduation.

Eric is a meteorology major who got involved with the team as a freshman to get experience that could lead to a dream career with the Weather Channel. “Little did I know what I was getting into,” Eric says. “It’s turned into so much more. I get to produce the broadcast of a Valpo basketball game with leading technology. I’ve gone from trainee to trainer.”

The sports broadcast team films all of Valpo’s major games, from basketball to soccer to softball to football — and it now has the major benefit of a newly built control room. A direct result of Valpo joining the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), this multi-million-dollar upgrade was spearheaded by Ron and is just one of the many ways in which the conference move has impacted students across campus, not only student-athletes.

When Valpo accepted the invitation to join the MVC beginning in the 2017–2018 academic year, there was much excitement as anticipation grew around renewing historic rivalries and creating new rivalries, but there were also behind-the-scenes requirements to be met. The current control room was specifically designed to meet the MVC’s production standards, with the overhaul featuring new production equipment, monitors, cameras, replay capabilities, and more to raise the quality of Valpo’s The Valley on ESPN broadcasts.

The Valley move has helped Valpo take a leap forward not only in terms of competition, but also in the caliber of live event production. The new state-of-the-art equipment literally changes the game for Valpo students like Eric. While students across campus from a wide array of majors are part of the ESPN student team, it is most commonly an experiential learning opportunity embraced by students in the digital media program, bringing to life the audio and video production skills learned in the classroom through a real-life, technical experience that reaches a national audience.

“We are now outfitted with the same state-of-the-art digital production equipment that ESPN is equipped with,” Ron says. The entire production process is extremely authentic. Film crews arrive at game sites approximately three hours prior to game time, ensuring everyone is in position and properly trained to capture the ensuing competition. The action is just as busy in the control room, located in the Athletics-Recreation Center, with student team members doing everything from mixing natural sound to editing for replay shots. “It’s all about telling a story,” Eric says.

“It is my goal to make the experience as authentic as possible to create the most student impact,” Ron says. Always looking to enhance the opportunity for his students, Ron seeks out their input through post-wrap meetings with the entire team.

Students are paid by the hour to be on the team. This spring, Ron says they will also be forming a class around the experience. It will be a hands-on laboratory class for which students will earn three college credits. They will also keep — and grow — the original program that allows students to be paid crew members.

Ron is seeking students for the team like Eric, who show exceptional passion and interest. According to Ron, Eric works diligently to elevate the go-getters on the team to new roles that open up avenues for learning. “The hands-on experience is what will ensure the future success of our students. The teaching never ceases, nor does their learning,” Ron says.