College strikes deal with ESPN for Sports Journalism Program

by Kevin Daley

News Editor

ESPN branding will soon adorn the walls of Science Hall.

This week, College administrators announced Canisius has entered into an agreement with ESPN, which high-placed sources identified as “the worldwide leader in sports.” The contract allows students to produce live Canisius athletic events for broadcast on ESPN3, under the direction of the College’s Department of Athletic Communications.

Canisius plans to offer a new program in Sports Broadcast Journalism, in which students will oversee development, event production, pregame, halftime and postgame content, highlight packages, interviews, and features. The high definition productions will feature ESPN graphics which may be viewed in over 99 million households. Currently, the College broadcasts approximately 15 games each year through an ESPN platform. That number is expected to grow to between 50 and 70 through the partnership. ESPN retains exclusive control over which student-produced content they will accept for broadcast.

“We’re going to substantially improve the quality of our live stream broadcast right now,” Athletic Director Bill Maher told the Griffin. “Just the cameras we use, the graphics, the switchers, the play-by-play that we’ll go over, it will be a substantially improved broadcast from what we’re offering right now in most other sports and even basketball because we’ll be doing so much more for an ESPN-level broadcast.”

“This academic and athletic collaboration will provide our students with practical, hands-on learning experiences in live video production, and at the same time, broaden the reach and visibility for Golden Griffin athletics,” Canisius President and former Griffin editor John J. Hurley said in a statement to local media. “Not only is this the addition of an excellent academic program, it is a major step forward in the branding and marketing of the college and our athletics.”

The partnership was first envisioned by Maher, after an ESPN presentation at a meeting of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Shortly thereafter, he approached Dr. John Dahlberg, Chair of the Communications Department. “Then from there it was like anything else,” Maher said. “You put a business plan together, you have to scrub the numbers, we really looked at the potential enrollment of new students, we looked at the cost and what it was going to take to pull it off, we put a business plan for it and it goes up the chain.”

To facilitate broadcast-quality content, the College will build a control room on the first floor of Science Hall featuring state-of-the-art production and audio equipment. Student Affairs Vice President Dr. Terri Mangione says the rooms can still be used as an academic space. “Office space and student space are not being used,” she told the Griffin. “No one should lose any service or capacity they already have.” ESPN branding will also be added in Science Hall. College administrators are confident the facility will be a major selling point for prospective students.

Installation of equipment will be conducted by Williamsville’s Sports Display Systems, which services numerous video production systems, including those at the First Niagara Center, Coca-Cola Field, and the University at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena.

Renovations in Science Hall will be financed by the College’s capital budget. The Griffin was unable to ascertain an exact figure, though Mangione characterized the investment as “significant.” She said the budget committee is not expected to approve funds for the project if the expenditure will cause the College to exceed the total allocated for capital projects this financial year. Nonetheless, the facility will be ready for use by Fall 2015. “If reallocation is necessary, we’re going to do that,” Mangione added.

Mangione also cautioned that the project will not be the College’s largest capital investment this year. “It’s less of an expenditure than it is to air condition the KAC,” she said.

Dahlberg says the Communications Department currently plans to attract five students to the program per year, over the coming four years, for a total of 20 students by the 2018-2019 academic year. These enrollment figures will make the program, which has low operating costs after the initial investment, financially self-sustaining after four years. Even at this late date, Dahlberg and Mangione are confident the College can attract five students to the program for the coming academic year.

The program also revitalizes the College’s nascent journalism program, which has charted an uncertain course in recent months. “It’s been a rocky road,” Dahlberg told the Griffin, while expressing optimism about the program’s future. He says that, while other institutions have similar partnerships with ESPN, the academic component the College is developing is unique among peer institutions. “We think we have a tremendous opportunity,” he said.

The partnership was presented to faculty members in advance of the College’s formal announcement in a presentation made by Dahlberg and Dr. Rick Wall, Vice President of Academic Affairs. Dr. Tanya Loughead, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Women and Gender Studies program, raised concerns about partnerships between nonprofit universities and corporate actors during the meeting. Loughead, the author of a forthcoming book on the corporatization of higher education, suggested the presence of for-profit entities on campus inhibits academic freedom.

Loughead’s concerns are widely shared by American academics, suspicious of a creeping corporate presence on college campuses. A 2013 survey by Inside Higher Ed, an online media platform dedicated to news and analysis of contemporary higher education issues, found that the “increased influence of business in higher ed” ranks atop current faculty concerns.

“The mission of the higher ed institutions that I was educated to teach in was not to produce trained cogs for the corporate machine, but to produce independent, critical thinkers who are equipped to leave the world better than they found it. Apparently there is no longer perceived as a desirable outcome,” one professor told researchers Dayna Catropa and Margaret Andrews.

Another professor took aim at individual administrators. “The growing influence of the business mindset I’ve seen in presidents and top administrators from business, push for numbers, top-down decision making, and lack of respect for faculty work.”

A 2010 book “The Politics of Inquiry: Education Research and the ‘Culture of Science’” examined the trend in the context of the grant process, finding the private funding of academic research by for-profit actors significantly shaped the course and direction of research.

What’s more, further renovations may give further offense to faculty in Science Hall, who have privately expressed complaints about the quality of classroom facilities.

Both Mangione and Dahlberg say they take Loughead’s concern seriously, while expressing confidence that ESPN’s presence on campus borders on peripheral. “There is no academic freedom issue here,” Mangione told the Griffin. “Other than signs they will not have influence on campus.” Dahlberg was equally emphatic, stating, “They will have nothing to do with academics.” Both she and Dahlberg emphasized ESPN’s role is restricted to selecting content for broadcast.

Producing content will prove a daunting task in itself, though administrators say the practical, hands on experience it provides students is invaluable — and the program’s greatest strength. “This is going to involve massive student participation,” Dr. Mangione said. “When you see the branding, the control room, and students working in the control room, it’s going to be impressive.”

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Comments

  1. I’m glad that we can be confident in the long-term future of journalism as an offering among Canisius’ programs – though I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping for a return of a broader print journalism component once administrators and professors can find a way to make it financially sustainable. (Perhaps a narrative journalism concentration under the umbrella of creative writing?)

    Anyway, I couldn’t imagine this partnership without the preceding three or four years of solid, innovative and extensive sports coverage in the tradition of Rich Lunghino, Nick Veronica, Jourdon LaBarber, and Kyle Ferrara (not to mention the myrmidions Alex Beilman, John Langley, Alex Vilardo, and others).

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