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Students get real-world experience at ISU games
Illinois State Mass Communication instructor Rick Ricioppo, back, and his student Brittany Cohen, front, look over some notes before the Illinois State Men's basketball team takes on Ball State University at Redbird Arena in Normal, Illinois, Saturday night (February 17, 2007). (Pantagraph/B Mosher)

NORMAL - Parked in a 10-by-18 foot trailer outside the southwest tunnel at Redbird Arena, class is in session during Illinois State basketball games.

ISU mass communication students are under the watchful eye of Rick Ricioppo, the production director for campus-operated TV-10. The students are controlling what is shown on the new video boards on the center-hung scoreboard and side message centers that were installed earlier this month, bringing Redbird Arena into the 21st century with an upgrade to full color LED (light emitting diode).

"We want lots of crowd shots," said Brittany Cohen of Buffalo Grove, a senior who served as director for the ISU-Ball State game last Saturday. "We want to get through all the sponsor stuff we have to, but we want to keep the fans involved in the game and make sure they are supporting our team, are happy about it and are cheering."

ISU has undertaken a $1.25 million video board project. Much of the funding came from sponsors Country Insurance and Financial Services, CEFCU, Carle Clinic/Health Alliance and Pepsi, said ISU senior associate athletics director Larry Lyons.

The 7½-by-16 foot Main Street marquee should be completed in about a month, said Lyons. Hancock Stadium's 12-by-18 foot video board will be retrofitted into the existing scoreboard - much like the 7½-by-12½ foot video board at Redbird Arena was - and be completed well before the season begins.

The production trailer will move to a spot near Hancock Stadium for football broadcasts.

"From a partnership standpoint and educational opportunity, we're very pleased," Lyons said. "Hopefully, we can expand it in the future."

That would be fine with Ricioppo, who also teaches introduction and advanced mass communication classes as well as supervising on-campus interns.

Rare hands-on experience

Allowing students a hands-on chance outside the classroom is invaluable.

"This is an unbelievable opportunity for my students," Ricioppo said. "They are getting real world game-time experience. These guys can get jobs working for ESPN or ABC Sports."

There are typically nine students involved during basketball games. There are two camera operators under each basket and two people handling their cables. Another camera operator works alone on the concourse near center court.

Inside the production truck, one student operates the replay system while another is in charge of the video server that can store up to five hours of video, commercials and animation. The director sits between the replay and video server operators.

Just behind them is the computer graphics operator. That person updates a lot of the marketing contests as well as game statistics.

Ricioppo said the director is in constant contact with the camera operators and others in the truck. The director doesn't have contact with the marketing department, Ricioppo said.

"I'm on the headset with marketing, and I'm helping Brittany know what contests are coming up, but I give her total run of the show," Ricioppo said.

While the video board helps keep the crowd entertained, it also can be beneficial in determining the outcome of a game.

With cameras available, referees are able to use monitors at courtside to see if a last-second shot at the end of each half beat the buzzer.

During Wednesday's game against Creighton, referees were able to check and make sure ISU's Osiris Eldridge was behind the arc when the Creighton bench questioned whether his basket was a two-pointer or three-pointer.

Ricioppo said controversial replays won't be avoided - to an extent.

"We are a product of the ISU athletic department, and we're here to give the fans a good time," Ricioppo said. "You can probably figure out the rest. I'm not going to show a bunch of replays of refs missing something against my team.

"We're not broadcasting. This is just for ISU. Of course, we're homers."

Like many ISU communication students, Cohen also works for TV-10 and directing the video board at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in downtown Bloomington.

"At first it was really scary, but now it is pretty fun," Cohen said. "Here it's still a little new and we're getting used to things, but it is pretty fun."

The biggest complaint from fans at Redbird Arena has been the elimination of live statistics on the center scoreboard. Lyons said it was hoped to put the statistics on the side message boards, but software computer issues arose when trying to connect with the statistics crew.

ISU hopes to have those problems worked out when volleyball begins in the fall.

"Our goal was to get the widescreen technology going," said Lyons.

That's in addition to the goal of providing an educational platform for students.

"Brittany is getting really good experience directing multicamera live events," said Ricioppo. "It looks great on their resumes, and they have a nice portfolio tape when they're done. When I was in college, I never got to do anything like this."

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