The Valley on ESPN 3

In concluding a teleconference announcing a 10-year extension of the Missouri Valley Conference and ESPN's media rights agreement, MVC commissioner Doug Elgin characterized the deal as giving the league more "tonnage" when it comes to exposure on the network.

That "tonnage" will come in the form of a co-branded network the school and the conference will jointly launch via the auspices of ESPN3, the webcast and mobile arm of ESPN's broadcasting empire. The co-branded network will be called The Valley on ESPN3.

The league and the network announced the initiative on Thursday. It runs through the 2023-24 academic year.

"One other thing that differentiates our deal from the others is the tonnage, the sheer number of events that are going to be produced by our campuses and by the Missouri Valley for distribution on ESPN3," Elgin said Thursday during a teleconference.

Some of the league's contests in men's and women's basketball, as well as the MVC's postseason tournaments, gravitated to ESPN3 last season. An example? ISU's softball tournament championship game victory in May was shown on ESPN3.

"The opportunity for exposure is tremendous. Anyone around the world can tune in and see MVC and ISU sports. That's going to be a great service for our parents, fans and alumni. It's a win-win," ISU Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman said.

A unique, and important, aspect of the agreement is the campus-based model that will be used for production of the broadcasts. Students will be directly involved in the production of the broadcasts.

ESPN Vice President of College Sports Programming Ilan Ben-Hanan indicated that most of the student work would be behind the cameras.

"Generally speaking, what we're talking about here from student involvement does not always extend to on-air. Often times, we're talking about the ability to help run cameras, the production truck, run graphics, and the ability to build up and ramp up to production and direction roles," Ben-Hanan said.

Institutions will be responsible for providing equipment for the broadcasts.

Elgin said that the deal will work incrementally. At first, all men's and women's basketball games as well as volleyball, considered to be the core sports in the league, will be broadcast.

From that point, over the length of the deal, more sports will be added. Elgin said all of the league's sports will be broadcast with a peak of "800-plus events a year" in the final six years of the agreement.

"There's going to be an eagerness by our conference institutions to produce as many events as they can. [Institutions will have a blank page to write on. They can produce as many outdoor sporting events as they can capably handle in the early years [of the agreement]. We're stair-stepping up to that with numbers we're capable of achieving," Elgin said.

ISU announced that it will produce its first ESPN3 broadcast with the student model on Sept. 8 — a volleyball home match against IUPUI. ISU also said that home baseball and softball will be added to the line-up in 2017-18 and coverage of soccer games will be added in 2018-19.

ISU also indicated that some football games would also be broadcast though football is not part of the overall agreement since football is under the auspices of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, considered to be a separate entity from the Missouri Valley Conference proper.

Indiana State Executive Director of Student Media Philip Glende expressed optimism for the exposure ISU students will get to on-the-job training.

"This is fantastic experiential learning opportunity for our students. ESPN is a leader in sports broadcasting, and this partnership will give students a chance to be part of a team producing nationally distributed live sports video," Glende said in an ISU press release.

ISU indicated that it is acquiring broadcast-quality, high definition video cameras, lenses and field gear, and is constructing a central control room equipped with video mixing and switching equipment on the lower level of Dreiser Hall. The control room will be connected by fiber to all Sycamore sports venues.

Prettyman said the student-media center will handle most aspects of the production operation with guidance from ISU's athletic staff.

Elgin declined to discuss financial details of the agreement. MVC associate commissioner Jack Watkins indicated that there could be a financial arrangement with the league and its schools regarding the equipment required to produce the broadcasts.

"Each school is different in terms of the equipment needs and the infrastructure. Any costs to acquire that equipment or those amenities to make the network viable will be between the conference and our 10 member institutions," Watkins noted.

Prettyman said that the equipment was purchased with the assistance of a rainy day fund from the league. Prettyman also indicated that there is no financial windfall coming to ISU and league schools as part of the deal, but said that it wasn't the point of the agreement.

"We're not looking at an ACC, Pac 12 or SEC-style agreement. It is a break even deal, at best, and probably not even that, but it's about the exposure," Prettyman noted.

The deal protects the school's local media rights agreements — ISU's local television broadcasts are currently on WTWO and sister station WAWV — as well as the MVC's long-time multi-week broadcasts on regional Fox Sports networks.

Since 2006, CBS has broadcast the MVC men's basketball tournament championship game, though ESPN has had the rights to the game and has contracted it out to the over-the-air network. The game is scheduled to be aired on CBS again next March.

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Todd Aaron Golden has been Sports Editor and Indiana State beat writer since September 2004. Born in Milwaukee but an Indiana resident most of his adult life, he previously worked in Jeffersonville, Columbus and Eau Claire, Wis.

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