By: Tyler Griffith, Ike Dirrim, Parker Stewart , Tommy Smith
Since 2009, Sports Link has emerged as one of the top sports media and production clubs in the nation. The student-run club is affiliated with Ball State University, starting as a curricular program for Digital Sports Production majors. Current Sports Link member, Adrian Jarding, says that “everyone in Sports Link majors in Digital Sports Production.” Specifically, Chris Taylor, Senior Director of Digital Sports Production and Lecturer, says that “Sports Link is the brand name, and Digital Sports Production is the track behind it.”
Taylor took over the club in the Spring of 2009 because the club needed a full-time employee to be in charge. Since then, Sports Link has reached a deal with ESPN3, has reached a deal with the NCAA to broadcast March Madness games and has won multiple Emmy awards. A year after the ESPN3 deal, Sports Link had one of their best years in the 2016-17 school year. Sports Link won multiple Emmy awards, and the club produced more than ten story pieces that aired for ESPN3 in the school year.
Even though Taylor is in charge, the club is completely student-run. There are forty-five students currently participating in Sports Link, and nearly 45 percent went to high school outside of Indiana. This number is something Taylor is proud of. The reason why there are so many out-of-state students is because of the club’s success. When a sports production club wins multiple Emmy awards, it tends to attract high school students. Also, the club has National Partnerships (ESPN3 and NCAA March Madness) that draw interest from high school students from all around the United States. “I knew they had a connection with the NCAA, which was really appealing,” Jarding said. “No other school has a connection with the NCAA that we do.”
Sports Link and ESPN3 reached a multi-year deal in the 2015-16 school year, making Ball State the first MAC school to do so. This is the year Sports Link started to attract a larger audience and when more out-of-state high school students started to notice the club. The deal has helped students, and the club, reach 45 Emmy nominations and 20 Emmy awards. Also, Sports Link has had 33 Sports Video Group/Best of College Sports Media nominations, and nine of them were wins. The club has won several other awards to add to their success as a student-run club as well.
For some students, Sports Link is a big part of why they attended Ball State in the first place. Current Sports Link member, Jarin Matheny says, he “wouldn’t be at Ball State if it wasn’t for Sports Link.” The club allows students to perform live production, run social media accounts, write feature stories, perform live broadcasts and more. “It’s student-run, but it has that extra level where it feels like this is a professional group,” Matheny said.
Every summer, Taylor and Sports Link reach out to high school students by setting up summer workshops. The workshops occur from mid-May to the beginning of June. Most of the summer workshops occur in central Indiana, but the club sets the workshops up throughout the state. It also holds summer workshops in eastern Illinois, in western Ohio and is looking to expand to northern Kentucky. “We are pretty diligent in trying to go recruit from high schools,” Taylor said. The number of out-of-state students has slowly increased over the years, and with the expected summer workshop location expansions, that number could increase even more. Current students play a big role in the recruitment process as well. Specifically, “the students are almost recruiting back to their hometowns with the quality of our work,” Taylor said.
To become a part of Sports Link, you have to apply. You have to provide your portfolio that displays your previous work from high school. If you don’t have experience, you could still apply. You would have to write a written essay to explain why you would be a good fit for the club. Taylor is looking through applications now, and he says he looks for students that desire the profession more than the sports. “There’s a big difference between a sports fan and someone who wants to work with the industry,” Taylor said. “We are looking for someone who has the desire to pursue something like this as a career.”
The students in the club work as if it is a profession, and there are 17 workstations in their production room. “You’re coming here getting the reps every day of every week,” Taylor said. Each student has their strengths and weaknesses, but Taylor wants each student to have a role in every field of the production room. “By program design, we want everyone to be involved with everything. The foundation of storytelling is the same no matter what the student is working on,” Taylor said.
Sports Link is much more than a student-run club. “We’re kind of the ESPN of Ball State,” Jarding said. Along with the many awards, Sports Link has shaped its former students into Digital Sports Production professionals. The club helps provide students with Digital Sports Production jobs all across the United States. For example, Sports Link alumni have landed jobs with ESPN, the NCAA Athletics Department, Turner Sports, the NHL, the NBA. the NFL, the MLB, Raycon Sports, Indycar and NASCAR. With all of the awards, alumni success and National Partnerships, Sports Link has emerged as one of the top sports media and production clubs in the nation.