If you are a rabid college football fan like me, you probably spend most of your Fall Saturday's healthily parked in front of the TV frantically switching back and forth between college football games from all around the country from 9 in the morning til the midnight hour. While fans like me may think that it is challenging to flip through five or six games at a time and catch as many key plays as they can, the precision and speed it takes us to go from channel to channel pales in comparison to what it takes to put out the many college football broadcasts that we enjoy each Saturday.
Recently, I was lucky enough to be invited by the Pac-12 Network to head out to the Rose Bowl on a Saturday night and get a first-person look at how the college football games that we all love are broadcast along with a first-person look at UCLA destroying Arizona. A big fan of the network myself, the invite was enough to pry me off of my couch on a big night of college football (not an easy thing to do), and check out just how the first-year network pulls off a broadcast of a game.
Coming into the Rose Bowl, I knew almost nothing about live television production, but was quickly able to pick up on how it works with the help of some of the staff at the Pac-12 Network. A massive operation, there are about 60 people in all that go into putting it all together with the production taking place on three separate venues that need to executed perfectly to produce a quality broadcast, the production truck, the booth and the sidelines.
I've walked past these things numerous times outside of games without ever thinking what they are. On the outside, they look like the kind of trucks you would expect to transport a big-time rock band from cities around the Midwest, but on the inside the truck is more like a war room than a tour bus. Inside, the truck is lined to the brim with screens showing production staff the numerous views of the game that you are watching along with clips and replays to be spliced in. It honestly looks a bit like the central commands you will see in movies that involve NASA, with a staff manning control stations and barking out commands and requests that ensure a seamless broadcast.
This is where not only the basics of the game like camera angles, replays, audio and pre-recorded segments are cued up, but also the nuts and bolts of a broadcast like the graphics, digital scoreboard and first down line are all created, edited and executed. The focus of the night's broadcast was Johnathan Franklin breaking UCLA's career rushing record, so the graphic team was hard at work early in the game preparing graphics to illustrate and put Franklin's historical accomplishment into perspective. I came away with a new appreciation for just how efficient all of the guys in the truck must be and I would describe their operation as being a lot like Oregon's offense - tight, fast and with a shocking amount of efficiency for how quick they have to pull off maneuvers that are not easy.
While in the truck, I was able to get some insight from producer Michael Molinari on how exactly the operation in the truck works along with the details of the crew's schedule. The guys in the truck will usually take off from their home bases which are spread out across the Pac-12 region on Thursday where they head to the game location and then setup on Friday before putting it all together for the game on Saturday and then heading home on Sunday. Depending on how many games the network is broadcasting on a given Saturday, this operation will be taking place in a number of locations. On this particular Saturday there was a truck in Pasadena for the UCLA/Arizona game and a truck in Salt Lake City for the Utah/Washington State game. As you could imagine, the crew will rack up some serious mileage over the course of the season as Molinari estimates that he will travel more than 20,000 during an average football season.
High above the field, the most well-known portion of the production crew, play-by-play announcer Ted Robinson and game analyst Glenn Parker call the game. The crew in the relatively small room is light and other than the brief introduction that you see on the broadcast with Robinson and Parker setting up the game and a halftime breakdown, they will mainly remain in their seats, relaying all of the action to the viewers and talking to the guys in the truck to ensure that everything is running smoothly.
While the booth is a very integral part of the broadcast and the most marquee part of the broadcast, it is far less hectic than the truck and a quiet and focused environment that allows Robinson and Parker do their thing. These guys are a lot like the USC receiving duo of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, they're talented, exciting and make the game much more fun to watch.
The sidelines provides a unique blend of technical production and reporting.
Prior to the game while the camera crew are setting up their angles and paths, Robinson and Parker along with sideline reporter Ryan Nece will stalk the sidelines, hoping to grab coaches Jim Mora or Rich Rodriguez for a moment to get some insight from the head coaches going into the game. On this particular night, they were able to snag Rodriguez, but unable to connect with Mora who is known to avoid the media in certain situations. The crew was also able to spot a minor celebrity on the Arizona sideline in former West Virginia and Miami Dolphins quarterback Pat White, who had a great career under Rodriguez in Morgantown.
Once the game gets started, the camera and audio crew will be racking up almost as many yards rushing as Franklin or Ka'Deem Carey, as they follow the action. My first experience on a college football sidelines during the game, I quickly discovered that sideline spectators spend about half of their time getting out of the way of the camera crew and their plethora of wires. The camera crew is similar to Stanford's offensive line, they take care of business up front to make sure everything goes smoothly and pave the way for the rest of the team.
In the midst of all the action, Nece is trolling the sidelines, looking to pick up any breaking game stories he can and keeping an eye on potential injuries. It's unclear if Mora has banned media from his sidelines, but I did notice that Nece spent what seemed like the entire first half on the Arizona sideline.
Like most Pac-12 fans I ecstatic to have a network that only covers the conference that I love and that makes sure that every single game in the conference is on TV. Gone are the days when I wouldn't be able to watch Northern Colorado vs. Utah on Thursday night, and that's something I really appreciate. You can find out more about the network and upcoming games on the conference's official site and their Twitter profile.