The Link Between Sports and Media

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.

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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.

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A game with no borders

MUNCIE, IND. — Different flags representing different countries stand next to one another to represent home. On the outside fence surrounding the Ball State women’s soccer field, the flags symbolize differences among the team, but they unite similarly to how the players do.

Seven players from the 2018 Ball State women’s soccer team weren’t born in the United States, but they now call the place their soccer home. The representing flags display the countries of Trinidad and Tobago, Switzerland, Canada, Spain, Sweden and England.

In 2009, the Cardinals didn’t have the flags to represent any international players on the team. A season that resulted in a losing record (4-13-1) created a change for the following seasons. Head coach, Craig Roberts, took over the women’s team, and he made certain that changes were to be made.

Roberts is originally from England, and he now is the most winningest coach in Ball State soccer history. In 2010, Roberts brought in three international players to play for the Cardinals, and the changes started to turn to positive ones. Although they suffered a losing record (7-10-2), the Cardinals improved from the season before.

“I felt that we needed more diversity. Whether it was from different countries, whether it was going to be race, we just needed to mix things up,” Roberts said. Going internationally to recruit some of his players seemed like a smart move for the head coach, considering soccer is the world’s most popular sport, and it is more popular in countries outside of the United States.

During the 2011 season, Roberts and the Cardinals went on to finish the year without a losing record (9-9-3) for the first time since the 2007 season (13-5-2). Although the team was earning more wins, Roberts was more focused on creating a better team chemistry for the Cardinals. “The closer the team is, the better the performance they’re going to have,” Roberts said.

Before every season, Roberts brings the players together for team-bonding experiences. For example, the players will unite and display middle school pictures of one another without telling each other who is who. The players then try and guess to see if their answers were correct.

Another team-bonding exercise the Cardinals perform is a Christmas gathering before winter break. “We will bring players together before Christmas. We have kind of a team Christmas dinner, we share customs. It’s an option for them to grow,” Roberts said. Some international players celebrate the holiday a different way than some of the players who were born in the United States.

“It’s always good to experience new things,” Sophomore midfielder, Chelsi Ralph, said. Ralph joined six other international players for the 2018 season, and she represents Trinidad and Tobago.

The team’s resurgence isn’t solely because of the addition of more international players, but Roberts believes they bring a different style to the game. Different styles of play “allows the players to learn from each other,” Roberts said.

Before an addition of international players joined the team, Ball State played with a physical style, an American style. Nicky Potts, Junior midfielder from England, explains that she didn’t know exactly what to do when she first joined the team. “The people are more physical here, whereas when I’m back home, I played technical, like pass and move,” Potts said. Now, the players blend their style of play with both the technical and physical approaches.

After a couple of years practicing and playing in a more international way, the Cardinals took the next step in 2012 and earned their first winning season (8-7-5) under Roberts’ coaching duties. The season featured six international players.

Roberts used an online site that featured international soccer players’ highlights to recruit internationally. Before committing to Ball State, Ralph was informed by a recruiter about the website. Three days after posting her highlights, Ralph received a call and offer to play for Roberts at Ball State.

Online isn’t the only way Roberts finds the international players. “I’ve got a lot of contacts around the world,” Roberts said. Even though he coaches for Ball State, Roberts also coaches the national level Puerto Rico team. The international background drives more opportunity for international recruitment.

The recruitment process led to six players rostered on the 2013 team, and the Cardinals finished towards the top of the MAC conference with another improving record (11-7-4). Winning records weren’t the goal anymore. Roberts and the Cardinals were chasing after a new goal, a MAC championship.

The 2014 season was the first year the MAC conference broke the soccer teams into two divisions, the MAC West and the MAC East. The Cardinals joined the MAC West division with Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Toledo.

Although Ball State dropped down to five international rostered players in 2014, the Cardinals improved (11-7-2) for the fifth consecutive season. In result, Roberts and the Cardinals finished second in the MAC West behind Eastern Michigan by a half game.

The flags representing different countries surrounded the Cardinals’ field, but a recent MAC championship flag remained unseen. After a (10-1) conference record in 2015, Roberts brought the Cardinals their first MAC regular season championship in eight years. Once again, the Cardinals improved their overall record (14-3-3) from the year before.

Consistency became the backbone behind the team’s play on the field, and Roberts made sure to keep a consistent amount of international players rostered on the team year after year.

In 2016, the Cardinals ended the season with the same record (14-3-3) and another MAC regular season championship, but Roberts and the Cardinals aimed towards a new goal, a MAC tournament championship.

After an (11-7-3) record in 2017, the Cardinals bounced back to make it to the MAC tournament championship last season. The 2018 season featured seven international players on the roster, but the Cardinals suffered a defeat in the end after penalty kicks decided the championship game against Bowling Green University.

To push for a MAC tournament championship, Roberts hints that he is bringing in more international players to join the team. If the team holds more than seven international players on their roster for this season, it will be the most Ball State has had rostered on their team in Ball State soccer history.

Everything goes back to the team-bonding experiences Roberts has the women perform. Not only are the Cardinals working on their team chemistry, they are gradually taking steps to higher success under the coaching duties of coach Roberts. The country flags have been joined by two recent MAC regular-season championship flags, but will 2019 be the year the MAC tournament flag joins the group? Together the players join as one, U.S. born or not, as do the different uniting flags.