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Canisius creates sports broadcast program in deal with ESPN

Canisius College is rolling out a new academic program next fall that will include students in the production of live Golden Griffins athletic events for ESPN3, a sports network available online and through streaming to nearly 100 million homes.

Student productions of Canisius basketball games and other sports will be a key piece of the new sports broadcast journalism set to debut in August.

“When you talk to students about it, they say, ‘Wow. ESPN,’ ” said John Dahlberg, professor of communications and chairman of the department. “It’s a huge brand, and it would be nice to be affiliated with it.”

Canisius’ basketball program has long helped draw attention to the Jesuit college, which competes at the Division I level in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Now, the college will be using the new academic program to bolster the visibility of its sports teams.

As part of the sports broadcast journalism program, students will be required to participate in the production of Golden Griffins games.

ESPN has agreed to stream the games online, provided the productions meet the sports conglomerate’s quality standards. Each game production will need 10 or 11 students manning four to six cameras, a replay switchboard, a soundboard and other technology. Students also will be responsible for interviews, features, highlight packages and coaches shows.

ESPN used to produce a limited number of live broadcasts of games in the MAAC and other mid-major conferences. But in recent years, the conferences have agreed to take on more production responsibilities, in exchange for broader exposure and undisclosed amounts of money. Most colleges and universities usually use staff, freelancers or students in work-study programs for their live-game productions.

Canisius will be among the first schools to rely heavily on students receiving academic credit for their work. The students will be overseen by two college staff members, who have yet to be hired, said Bill Maher, Canisius athletics director. In addition to home games for men’s and women’s basketball, students will produce hockey, lacrosse and soccer home games for ESPN3 in 2015-16. Productions could expand to baseball and softball in the future.

“ESPN has said to us, any content we want to supply to them, they’ll stream it,” Dahlberg said.

Canisius is building a new Golden Griffins Sports Broadcast Center on the first floor of the college’s Science Hall for the new program. The center will include video production and audio equipment and serve as a classroom for a sports broadcast journalism course and for video production courses.

The college had been streaming some sports over the past year with a stationary camera or two, said Maher, but the ESPN3 productions will be far more enhanced, with better camera angles, high-end graphics and other features that typically accompany ESPN programming.

While the college expects to keep its professional play-by-play announcer and color commentator for basketball games, those positions could be filled by students for other sports, Maher said.

Canisius has offered communications and journalism for years. The sports broadcast journalism program will build upon courses already offered at the college, Dahlberg said.

The live Canisius games will have the same level of production values seen on other ESPN channels, he said.

“You shouldn’t see any drop off in quality,” he said. “That’s our goal.”