Some assembly required: A history of IUSTV sports

written by Tim Schoch

It started with a freshman’s simple question, “We’ve got Indiana Basketball here, why are we worried about intramural hoops?”

A few years after Indiana University Student Television’s conception in 2002, 19-year old Ronan O’Shea made his pitch to the board of directors to replace its flagship sports show and take the student-run organization’s sports coverage to the next level.

“On the Edge of Your Sport” focused primarily on intramural sports, and O’Shea’s proposal of “Hoosier Sports Nite” would move them toward becoming a comprehensive broadcasting outlet of athletics at IU. It would follow the likes of the newly formed Big Ten Network and Comcast SportsNet Chicago, and take form as a localized 30-minute show in the style of ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Fifteen seasons of Hoosier Sports Nite and more than a decade of Indiana Men’s Basketball coverage later, it’s surprising O’Shea ever had to convince anyone. But the reality of sports media at IU in a pre-digital, pre-Twitter, pre-Media School age was one of minimal resources, supervision, and institutional support.

What IUSTV Sports wanted to be didn’t exist.

Ashton to Read

The formation of the Media School in 2015 brought with it professional-grade equipment and facilities, in addition to a more integrated academic structure. Only a decade prior, IUSTV Sports students were producing weekly episodes of Hoosier Sports Nite in residential dorm basements, operating in cramped spaces with digital video cassettes and more cockroaches than cameras.

“I distinctly remember one of the primary camera operators loosened it so she could tilt, pan, all that stuff, and a roach went running down the floor,” recalls O’Shea. “She let go, fortunately the camera didn’t fall, but it sort of slammed down, if you will. So we had a couple of close calls, no question.”

To get to the studio in Ashton you went through a wrought-iron black gate and down a flight of stairs into a corner of the basement with low ceilings.

“It was a really difficult place to make content,” O’Shea says. “It looked like you were going into a basement prison, or something like that. But you made the most of it.”

In 2006, later on in O’Shea’s freshman year, facilities improved with the move to a different dorm basement in Read, which happened to be where he lived both freshman and sophomore year. There was more space and higher ceilings, and IUSTV worked with the theater department to design a new set, hanging lights, building backdrops and TV stands.

With the improved space and a new flagship sports show in Hoosier Sports Nite, IUSTV Sports churned out a 30-minute show weekly, but the entire student organization—not just the Sports broadcast—only had four or five editing days to produce shows on sports, news, dating, food rating, and, at one point, an animated series initially aired as commercial promos called Destructo Box.

Despite the improvements in space and production, the reality remained that IUSTV, and Sports in particular, operated on the frontier of what media would become at IU, outside the parameters of the support structure that already existed for the journalism and telecommunication programs.

“If you wanted to be involved with student TV, student radio, and the student paper, you literally were going to three different corners of campus working with three very different groups of people, with no collaboration there.”

O’Shea, who graduated from IU in 2009 and currently works with college students in media at Metropolitan State University of Denver, also worked with the student radio station, WIUX, his freshman year covering smaller teams like volleyball, wrestling, and other Olympic sports. In the process, he was building a relationship with IU’s Sports Information Director at the time, Pete Rhoda, who would help him in his push to bring the top varsity sports to IUSTV by securing press credentials for Men’s Basketball and Football.

Obtaining credentials to cover top IU athletic events like Men’s Basketball and Football legitimized IUSTV as an outlet for sports media. Minimal supervision and structural support had been a limiting factor up to that point, but access was indispensable.

If they could get into the pressroom they could get into the game.

“We had a board of directors that was made up of a couple of faculty members,” O’Shea recalls, “but we really only saw them once a year when we were making our push for the student fees—the money that we would be getting annually.”

O’Shea thinks students at that time would have benefitted from more mentorship, but that the experience of creating their own opportunities and embracing their independence helped prepare them professionally. They knew they weren’t going to get what they needed just in the classroom.

“You had students who realized what needed to get done, and they were willing to sacrifice their nights and weekends for no pay and no credit in order to get that resume reel and get that experience so they could go get hired.”

IUSTV capitalized on the era of late IU Football coach Terry Hoeppner, a bowl game appearance under Bill Lynch, and a carousel of coaches in Assembly Hall, growing quickly into platform that was launching students into the top organizations in the industry.

“Our students had the opportunity to get incredible experience in a very independent manner. And look at how many people have come out of Hoosier Sports Nite that are working either in local TV networks, ESPN, NBA front offices with social media.”

Doing it all

Courtney Cronin, Minnesota Vikings beat reporter at ESPN’s NFL Nation, was part of IUSTV Sports from 2008 to 2012, as well as multiple other sports media outlets including freelance work and internships outside the university. One of the many opportunities of which she took advantage was IUSportCom, a student-driven digital media outlet covering all sports founded in 2009 by current Associate Professor of Sports Media at IU and Director of the National Sports Journalism Center, Galen Clavio.

“I really learned a lot about what media convergence was from Galen,” Cronin says. “He taught me that you don’t just have to be a TV person, you don’t just have to be a writer, you don’t just have to be someone who wants to host your own radio show, you can do all three of those things and do it all in one place.”

Cronin didn’t want to confine herself to one form of sports media. She currently writes for ESPN, but started out in television and emphasizes how you gain different skill sets as you mature in the sports media field.

IUSportCom was a platform similar to IUSTV in terms of the initiative it required from students to produce content. But it allowed them to tap into a little of everything in sports media and learn skills applicable in the industry.

“Let’s build a skillset where I can host a podcast and I can write a game story,” Cronin says of the motivation behind her experience, “and I can write an analysis piece and also produce cool packages and be able to be on camera.”

A growing program with independent student organizations like IU’s and an opportunity to develop a versatile skillset quickly drew Cronin to Bloomington, away from highly regarded programs like those at Syracuse and Missouri she had also considered.

“I really knew that I could hit the ground running and start this as a freshman, get comfortable on camera and learn how to do what I want to do eventually when I was 18 versus when I’m going into my junior year.”

Cronin was Sports Director by her senior year in 2012, but the greater value of her experience echoed O’Shea’s in working with like-minded students and going through the creative process while coaching one another.

“We had a really fun group because it was people who had the same interests. It’s a lot easier to do this when you’re part of a team.”

She still has a group text with her IUSTV Sports friends and talks to them on a weekly basis, even running into some of them at professional events, as she did recently at the NFL Combine with her IUSTV colleague and current Sports Anchor and Reporter at CBS4 and FOX59 in Indianapolis, Tricia Whitaker.

But by 2012, when IUSTV Sports began managing a Twitter handle and the turnover of content was at an all-time high under Cronin’s direction of Hoosier Sports Nite, the university had still not fully caught up to the pace at which the sports media presence on campus was developing under the student-driven organizations.

“I didn’t want to graduate with a kinesiology degree,” Cronin says of her academic experience at IU, “that’s why I didn’t do half the broadcast sports concentration even though I basically took whatever electives I could, whatever Galen’s teaching because they just weren’t available in the journalism school.”

That was years after O’Shea graduated, having also had the experience of navigating disparate academic programs to piece together a patchwork sports media degree.

“At Indiana it was so fractured at the time,” O’Shea says. “Journalism had the IDS, you had students interested in studio production in the telecommunication department, and then you had the sport communication students in HPER. They couldn’t be more separate from each other.”

O’Shea’s efforts to bring Hoosier Sports Nite to fruition defined a culture of sports media students at IU striving to create opportunities for themselves instead of expecting someone to do it for them. O’Shea and his colleagues had a sense of where the industry was headed and knew sports media at IU couldn’t wait for the university to catch up.

“I was at Indiana when everybody was getting cell phones and iPhones were coming out and people were using Blackberries,” says O’Shea. “And it was obvious that the digital presence was where things were going. You could see that those three places have to come together to create the best experience possible for students, but everything in higher education takes a long time.”

From Read to riches

Ben Wolfson, a senior at IU and a current IUSTV Sports Director, is one of the last of the Media School students to go through the experience of forging a sports media degree at the School of Public Health, formerly the School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER).

“I was in sports media, but what I wanted to do wasn’t really an option,” Wolfson says. He took the offer to switch into the Media School when it was formed and joined IUSTV in that transition. He soon became a Sports Director and recently helped create “The Toss Up,” a topical sports show that allows students to showcase their own voice on subjects spanning college athletics.

The Media School facilities allow them to efficiently produce more content and make it look better with state-of-the-art equipment, which improves IUSTV’s coverage and provides students with more hands-on experience with a variety of production roles.

“A lot of studios have this higher tech equipment,” Wolfson says. “So, I can put on my resume that I know how to do almost every position in the control room. That’s a great thing that employers like to see.”

As a Sports Director, Wolfson oversees roughly 30 students and is always looking to get more people involved to produce more content. Turnover can be high because of busy student schedules, but IUSTV Sports is producing more content than ever.

One thing hasn’t changed despite waves of rebranding, relocations, and restructuring. IUSTV Sports covers every team, even some club sports, and is still student-driven, self-sufficient, and seeking the frontier of sports media.

“We generate ideas,” Wolfson says. “We have the drive and motivation to do it.”

Echoing previous generations of IUSTV Sports students, Wolfson doesn’t think they are limited by minimal supervision, but strengthened by it.

“I think it’s really special because you get to come in and learn right off the bat from other students. Obviously, teachers help, but I think you can connect better with other students.”

That student-driven culture has persisted with the many academic and facility improvements, and the organization itself has become what early IUSTV Sports students envisioned.

“It was a lot of fun and we had a great group,” Cronin says of her time at IUSTV Sports, “but it definitely paled in comparison to the facilities, the guidance, the leadership, the structure that they have now.”

What followed the systematic support was superior coverage.

“We were there for the very first tapings of Hoosier Sports Nite,” says O’Shea, “and if you look at what the product is now, it’s exactly what I think we wanted it to be.”

Pushing the frontier

IUSTV Sports as it exists today is the culmination of a decade of student efforts with no pay, no college credit, and no place to call home.

“We didn’t have a travel budget,” says O’Shea. “We still covered road games. We covered both Men’s and Women’s Basketball staying on couches and at friends’ parents’ houses, and frat houses, whatever we had to do to keep it as efficient as possible.”

O’Shea remembers hearing about how great programs were at places like Syracuse, Missouri, and Northwestern, and the frustration when traveling to those schools that had both financial and institutional support. “Oh, this is how it could be,” he would think.

And while it has become what IUSTV Sports of old envisioned through the help of faculty like Galen Clavio and the work of students like O’Shea and Cronin, Wolfson and the current crew have their own vision for the future of the organization.

“I know we’re student television, but we want to expand to other forms, as well,” Wolfson says. “Today you usually don’t see a media outlet having one form of media, they do everything.”

IUSTV is currently rebuilding their website, but plan to produce articles and podcasts in an effort to become a center for all media.

Where students once turned kinesiology degrees into sports media professions in dorm room basements, the Media School now provides a home for collaborative efforts across disciplines in industry-grade facilities.

What hasn’t changed, and continues to fuel the growth of active, independent student organizations like IUSTV, is the culture of thinking outside the classroom and not waiting for others to create the opportunities they can create themselves.

Today’s IUSTV Sports students are the future for which O’Shea and Cronin worked, and they, too, work toward a vision bound to someday be fulfilled by the next generation of enterprising IU sports media students.