Some of you undoubtedly watched that basketball game between Iowa and Central Michigan on the Big Ten Network on Monday night.
You watched the Hawkeyes shake out of their first-half doldrums to pull out a victory. You listened to Eric Collins describe the action. You heard former Illinois player Sean Harrington provide analysis in his broadcasting debut.
You probably didn’t realize this: Collins and Harrington weren’t there.
They were sitting in a studio in Chicago, describing action that was taking place 220 miles away.
It’s all part of the marvel of technology, but it also was done largely because of the high cost of technology. It’s very expensive to hire a massive production truck on site to do everything that is needed to produce a college basketball game and disseminate it across the country. And it’s pretty much imperative that the announcers for the game be wherever the production facility is.
The Big Ten Network is capable of fully producing basketball games from a control room in Chicago — and thereby saving big bucks — so that’s where the announcers were, too.
Elizabeth Conlisk, vice president of Communications and University Relations for the Big Ten Network, said this sort of thing is becoming “commonplace” in sports broadcasting.
“A number of networks have been doing this,” she said. “I think the Pac-12 is doing this. NBC produced a lot of the Olympic events from control rooms.”
And it’s certainly not the first time BTN has done it, although it might be a first for a men’s basketball game.
Conlisk said the network has experimented with off-site announcers with lower-profile events such as ice hockey, wrestling, soccer, field hockey and a few women’s basketball games.
“We didn’t do it with men’s basketball until we were comfortable with the level of quality,” she said. “We televise over 450 sports events per year, and I would say about 100 are done this way. It’s a way to add more events for our viewers. Hiring a production truck is very expensive, and this allows us to do more events.”
Do the announcers lose some sense of the atmosphere of the event? You would think so.
Then again, Monday’s game was attended by a relatively serene crowd of 10,578, so there wasn’t a whole lot of atmosphere to soak up.
In any case, Conlisk doesn’t see that as a problem.
“We have sound. We still have mics near the basket and a sideline reporter is there …” she said. “When you think about it, the action moves pretty quickly, and I think (the announcers) can sense and see what’s going on inside the arena.”
She added that there was no attempt to fool viewers Monday. She pointed out that Collins and Harrington never said they were in Iowa City.
Then again, they didn’t ever say they weren’t there, either. I have to think viewers assumed they were inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, especially when they said they were “throwing it back to the studio” for an update. It was a pretty short toss.
That part of it is a little bit bothersome. Deception might not have been the intent, but it was the result.
It’s the media’s job to inform and entertain the audience in an honest, credible way. This has a little bit of a smoke and mirrors feel to it.
Conlisk said we won’t necessarily see a lot more of this. As technology advances, she thinks it will become possible to produce events in a control room in Chicago while having the announcers attend the event.
“I expect in the near future that we’ll have announcers back in the arena in these instances,” she said. “It’s just going to be a limited number of men’s basketball games for now.”