Over the next several weeks, as July 1 approaches and the University of Maryland’s migration from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten continues, subtle signs of the move will take shape around campus. April has featured daily prizes such as tickets and game-worn jerseys to drum up excitement. There is a motto now, imploring fans to “THINK B1G.” The logo of the old conference has disappeared from the turf at Byrd Stadium, and over the summer, the new league’s mark will arise in its place.
And with the simple setup of a backdrop, lights and camera, funded by the Big Ten and installed at a soon-to-be decided site, a more tangible change will emerge. At the league’s request, Maryland has begun planning the construction of a permanent studio for “talkback” video interviews with players and coaches, to be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. Most talkbacks will be used for “BTN Live,” the league’s answer to “SportsCenter,” and every Monday and Tuesday features at least one talkback at all member schools, according to Mark Hulsey, the Big Ten Network’s executive producer
“It should happen pretty quickly,” said Ryan Bowles, the associate athletic director for administration who is overseeing Maryland’s transition to the Big Ten. “It’s been a fun process because I think it really emphasized how big of an advantage the Big Ten Network is going to be for us.”
A cash cow that generated an estimated $270 million in revenue last year, according to several reports, the Big Ten Network offered a struggling Maryland athletic department increased revenue distribution from the conference and the prospect of heightened exposure as the school pondered leaping from the ACC, where it had resided since 1953. The talkback studio will further tap into this, allowing the Terrapins to sit down for brief interviews beamed into Big Ten Network headquarters in Chicago, where producers can remotely control the camera work.
The on-location equipment will be provided by the conference, Hulsey said. Maryland’s only job is to find a location — the media room inside Comcast Center and the visitor’s interview room at Byrd Stadium are two possibilities — and install everything, with the league’s help if needed. That follows a long line of assistance provided by the Big Ten, which includes a travel subsidy confirmed to be between $20 million and $30 million per year.
“We want it to be simple,” Hulsey said of the studios. “We want it to be quick. We want it to be as efficient as possible. Once that location is determined, then we’ll begin the construction process, which is relatively simple.”
Each of the Big Ten’s 12 current members has talkback studios on its campus. At Nebraska and Michigan State, for instance, the studio is located inside the football press box. Rutgers, the other new member entering this summer, is working through a similar process.
According to Jason Baum, Rutgers’s senior associate athletic director for athletic communications, few of the school’s nonrevenue sports have made national television appearances, save the occasional soccer game on Fox Sports or ESPNU.
“Just the ability to be able to have a studio and do live talkbacks with BTN, any of our athletes and coaches right away,” Baum said. “We haven’t had that kind of exposure here. I think it’ll be immeasurable for everyone.”
Wiring campuses for the transition also means running fiber cables to less-exposed locations, such as a field hockey complex or tennis courts, because the Big Ten Network will need access to these sites for live broadcasts. At Rutgers, a more expansive campus without centralized athletic facilities, that process may take more time. At Maryland, it should be easy, Hulsey said.
In recent weeks, producers and executives from the Big Ten and its dedicated channel have come to College Park to scout locations and offer assistance with the transition, hoping that by the time preseason football rolls around Aug. 1, exactly one month after the move is made official, the talkback studio will be up and running.
“The first thing was just getting a familiarity with the campus and the facilities, knowing which facilities were TV-friendly and those that were not,” Hulsey said. “In touring the facilities, they were quite impressive. We expect this to be a seamless transition.”