An open letter from D-III fans to Amherst, Williams

Dear Biddy Martin, President, Amherst College; and
Adam Falk, President, Williams College:

The Williams broadcasters aren't bad but the technology seems straight out of 2003.

The Williams broadcasters aren’t bad but the technology seems straight out of 2003.

Congratulations on having athletic departments and basketball programs specifically that are at the pinnacle of NCAA Division III. Your institutions’ young men and women on the court (and on other playing venues) represent your institutions well. They have performed on the biggest stages in Division III basketball.

Unfortunately, the way most people are viewing your program of late is through your schools’ official athletics webcast, each of which puts your institution in a poor light, for varying reasons.

It’s great that over the years more and more schools have found ways to video stream their games even if it just one camera and no broadcasters. A consistent quality broadcast requires infrastructure, manpower, time and of course, some money, whether you are paying an outside company to host your stream or hosting it on campus.

However, Division III fans, and your institutions deserve better. Amherst and Williams have had plenty of home games this month and have men’s home games on Saturday. You have an opportunity to fix this and raise the bar for this final home game of the season.

It upsets me that not only are these learning experiences that are being thrown away, but also this is the time of year Division III basketball gets to showcase itself and these broadcasts are doing the exact opposite. In order to get the rights to broadcast these games, your institution deals with NCAA partner Turner Sports, which handles rights for all sorts of NCAA Tournament games.

There are requirements and guidelines schools are supposed to follow, including this one:

The Streaming Entity may not denigrate Turner, the NCAA, NCAA member institutions or teams, their players or officials, or any NCAA sport, and must comply in all respects with the NCAA bylaws, rules and regulations in effect, which may be amended from time to time by the NCAA in its sole discretion.

That is pretty important to note. These broadcasts have to have a neutrality to them even if it is a “homer” broadcast team calling the games.

Schools get waivers of the $1,000 per-game rights fees. With that waiver comes those requirements and others, as well as benefits. These broadcasts are linked from as part of the official NCAA bracket, meaning it is being given prominence well beyond your institution and its fanbase. What kind of face does it put on your institution and NCAA Division III in general when your broadcasters act unprofessionally, screaming into the microphones, not bothering to check pronunciations of names, and generally treating the broadcasts as if they were any other fans in the stands rather than spokespersons for your school? That’s how Amherst College portrays itself on its official athletics webcast. If athletics is indeed the front porch of the college, then Amherst’s broadcast makes it look like a frat house.

Now, on the other hand, Williams has a little more professionalism in the commentary. Saturday’s men’s game was quite well done in that aspect. (More on the women’s games in a bit.) But the broadcast itself looks like a first-generation online broadcast, something straight out of 2003. And that was when the video finally came online at halftime. If athletics is the front porch, then Williams’ broadcast makes it look like a dilapidated shack.

The two young ladies calling the Emory/Whitman women’s game at Williams College on Friday night seemed less like broadcasters and more like two people asked to talk about the game with microphones in front of them. I couldn’t figure out who the play-by-play person or color analyst was – they both talked over each other and didn’t particularly describe the game. The crew that called the games that featured Williams was a bit rough, too. The play-by-play lady kept trying to call the game like she was yukking it up with her friends and even tried several times to bait the color guy into slang comments that made no sense and didn’t have a place for a game many people are watching from around the country. That was especially true considering the participating teams were from Georgia and Washington state.

We know technical problems can plague any webcast, whether hosted on campus or by an outside company. What works once doesn’t necessarily work the next time – instead of broadcaster in my description or Broadcast Director in my D3sports title, it probably should read Broadcast Troubleshooter and Director.

Let’s start with Williams: The video feeds looks like it is from the 1990s. The audio broadcast is even harder to deal with since it sounds like the broadcasters are talking through an old telephone line with absolutely no background noise. It sounds like a game being played in the 1980s.

However, to be honest, I would rather listen to those games than the ones at Amherst.

Those guys clearly have no interest in calling the game with any iota of professionalism. They sounded like they happened to have some microphones and thought it would be cool to call the games for their frat brothers while sitting in the stands. Constant complaining about officials’ calls when they aren’t in favor of the Lord Jeffs; snide comments about the opposing team even one comment, “he celebrated like it was an NBA game, I am not sure what that was all about” which had no context especially since the video feed wasn’t working; overall disdain for anything not in purple; lack of preparation, “I think that is how you say his name, but I need to look that up;” and overall a lack of caring. I even heard the “color analyst” acting like a coach yelling out to an Amherst player to watch out for a defender who was coming in for a double-team at mid-court.

I am shocked that a school like Amherst which has name recognition and often hosts games would allow these two to broadcast. Furthermore, I wonder if the NCAA and Turner Sports are watching these broadcasts since they actually own the content.

Let’s get back to two key points: educational experience and the spotlight on these institutions who are streaming games and for Division III as a whole.

How does a reputable school like Amherst allow a broadcast that is so below amateur to represent it? And how can a very reputable liberal arts college think these broadcasters are getting an educational experience? The players on the court are held at a very high standard when it comes how they conduct themselves. Shouldn’t the same high standards be held to the broadcasters on the official webstream for the college?

This applies to all schools in this situation. I have worked with quite a few where they know this experience is something that can better these students so the mission is to make it part of their college education. I know schools with less name notoriety or attention this time of year who would have pulled the plug on the Amherst broadcasters before the first half even ended!

As for the spotlight, we as a Division III family should be embarrassed and ask for something to be done. This is the division we love and cherish and wish would get more attention from national and even local media. These are teams we know will show the basketball world in Atlanta that the Division III brand of basketball is pretty high-caliber. We are proud of these student-athletes and we are proud of those who support these athletes from their coaches to administrators to even broadcasters. But when you turn on showcased games and broadcasters aren’t respecting the magnitude of the game or the viewers, something needs to be done. These broadcasts may be popular among your alumni, especially your young alumni, because they are energetic, but they sound more like a video game than a college basketball contest.

Next weekend the crew will be Holland, Mich., for the culmination of the women’s basketball season. And perhaps you will be too, since your teams have advanced. I am half-tempted to cancel my trip if I could travel to Amherst or Williams and show them how a broadcast in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship tournament should be done. In fact, I would be willing to travel to St. Mary’s (Md.) who doesn’t have a broadcast so that people can compare how bad those other entities are doing it at schools with plenty more national attention because of their institution’s names than most in Division III. Amherst even had a crew of ours in LeFrak Gymnasium earlier in early February for its doubleheader with Tufts University (men’s game tips off at 52-minute mark of that video). That was a crew made up entirely of former student broadcasters, ones who took the role seriously in their time at Division III schools. All of us at had microphones in front of our faces as students, and we weren’t perfect, but we took the game seriously and worked hard to make ourselves better, even if we weren’t being mentored by anyone.

Plenty of Division III schools have fantastic student broadcasters, and continue to produce quality broadcasts year after year, even though students graduate and move on. If you are in Holland this weekend, stop and listen to what the students from DePauw University sound like. WGRE has been producing quality broadcasts for years, ones that the entire institution can be proud of and put a fine face on Division III. Other schools do so year after year as well, schools such as Ithaca College, North Central College, Wheaton College (Ill.) and others who take it seriously and would never tolerate the type of broadcasts put out recently by Amherst and Williams.

Division III fans shouldn’t stand for this; you and your institutions shouldn’t stand for this; and those broadcasters should realize they are doing far more than embarrassing themselves. They are embarrassing the student-athletes, the athletic departments, their institutions and Division III as a whole.

Advise your students to take themselves seriously, do their homework and respect their opponents. It’s important not only to know how to pronounce the names of starters but also head coaches and assistant coaches, and whether the opponent’s school goes by College or University. You should listen to their tapes, but more importantly, so should they. That is how you get better as a broadcaster. They should learn not to talk over each other, because usually when two people talk, then neither one can be understood.

But most importantly, what they should learn is that a big game tends to bring a big audience, and they need to elevate their game in response. Just as they wouldn’t expect the players on the floor to revert to a playground game when there is a title on the line, they shouldn’t use those two hours as a time to joke around with their buddies.

Dave McHugh

13 thoughts on “An open letter from D-III fans to Amherst, Williams

  1. I go to messiah college, and because of the atheltic success and being a perennial competitor in the NCAA tournament for soccer and women’s basketball the school’s radio station is used for a lot of high listened too games. Also the same radio people are heard on the live stream.
    For basketball we use students, and I run the camera and I personally think they do a good job of representing the school/NCAA/conerence etc professionally. They are well prepared and that helps that.

    like mentioned above, it is great to allow students to have that experience, but we need to be professional at the same time. Messiah is just another great example to add to that list you mentioned above.

    Great article by the way.

  2. Great point — since I don’t follow soccer as closely, Messiah’s broadcasting tradition is not really on my radar.

    For me, the seminal point in this discussion was when Williams fans started chanting “brutal webcast” at Amherst in the NESCAC final. That speaks volumes, that it was so bad people in the gym were hearing about it from their friends.

  3. I handle all broadcasts at Stevens and we do 13-of-26 sports. We don’t have a communications program whatsoever and most students aren’t really that “sports broadcasting” inclined at a highly competitive academically rigorous engineering school. We don’t even have a functioning campus TV station…

    Now, we try and provide as much solid commentary as we can but the amount of man-hours and money involved is pretty daunting if you try and do it professionally. For bigger games, I may go outside to bring in people but if an AD doesn’t have resources to pay people, sometimes I am begging my group of federal work study student workers to work the game. Many times, my best, most sport savvy kids have to do scoreboard, shot clock, game clock because those jobs are more essential to the game than it is having them provide commentary for a webcast.

    I am not sure I have a point, and I totally understand where you are coming from in your critique, but getting off a good webcast is not easy and provides a ton of commitment from a variety of different places.

    I think back to our Stevens-Macon game at Lehman where I was having trouble getting internet, two of my student workers missed our bus over to the city from Hoboken, we had a baseball doubleheader going back on at school, one of my assist SID’s got a new job and I was having issues with sound while trying to serve as the Tournament Director. The webcast came off okay but in those hours leading up to that game I practically lost my mind and may have added a million gray hairs to my head…

    I hope webcasts can improve across the board and I know mine at Stevens are with essentially zero dollars from our budget being used. However, it is not easy at all and I would say I am just happy to have video available for most of these games…

    I am pretty sure the people at Amherst had their first women’s lacrosse game on Saturday and the winter-spring crossover is a beast no matter how you slice it…at D3 you have very limited resources and when you have to apply them at multiple locations at the same time it can be tough…

    Interesting discussion but it is a challenge that D3 schools have to improve at if we want to keep elevating our programs the way they deserve.

  4. I want to affirm the broadcasts from WGRE. They are an absolute delight to hear. When selecting a D-3 game for your listening pleasure, you will almost always enjoy the experience with WGRE.

  5. Interesting posting. I must admit that I have always listened to the Amherst webcasts with the thought that the announcers were a couple of work study kids that were just having some fun. I had no idea about the contractual obligations, nor did I ever give any thought to the greater audience that listens. Given that, your posting is right on the mark. Amherst should take these broadcasts more seriously. And if they read your post, I am sure they will. I do remember listening to one non-Amherst broadcast last year where Marcia Voight somehow became MarSeeAh Vote, and Kim Fiorentino became something like Kim Florentine. That did irritate me a bit, so I can understand where it would bother others as well.

    Two points to make though. I think you made your point early in your post, and you made it well, for both Amherst and Williams. Much of your post seemed like piling on. Were I officiating I’d probably throw the unnecessary roughness flag, but that may just be me.

    The second point goes to Pat Coleman’s comment about the chant at the Amherst/Williams game, and as I’m typing this I am thinking perhaps he is referring to the men’s game. I was at the women’s game, and I don’t remember hearing any such chant. I’m not making a comment one way or another about the announcing, just that I didn’t hear the chant.


  6. Thanks. I should have been more clear that it was, indeed, the men’s game.

    You could be right about the piling on. It is definitely a long post. But we were thinking the target audience doesn’t come in with as much day-to-day knowledge of athletics.

  7. I watched and listened to a total of four NCAA D-III basketball championship playoff games broadcast by the University of Rochester (two men’s games and two women’s game)over the past two weeks, and I was impressed by the quality of the video, stats, and commentary for all four games. I thought it was a great reflection of the University, their athletics program, and D-III sports. In fact, I was surprised at how objective the commentary was, sometimes even agreeing with calls that went against UR. By comparison, I also watched a D-II women’s basketball game between Bentley and Franklin Pierce broadcast from Bentley last week, which was also excellent, and I thought that the games broadcast by UR compared very favorably with the Bentley game. Congratulations to the University of Rochester on their fine work. I hope the athletic departments at Amherst and Williams take heed.

  8. I have mixed feelings about the letter. I am an Amherst alumnus and it is disappointing to read that Amherst students came across as unprofessional and that their commentary was better suited to a “frat house.” Although I did not watch the webcasts and therefore cannot comment on their behavior, your underlying point is well-taken: Webcasts, which started as a way to give distant alumni some window into the action beyond a box score, evolved into a vehicle to showcase the school and should be treated with professionalism and care. Gone are the days of getting away with the college radio “nobody’s listening anyway” goofing-off. It would certainly behoove Amherst for its students to act as professionally as possible in these presentations.

    In fairness to Amherst, they have done very well with webcasts. In previous years, I found the Amherst students who called the basketball games were quite professional and did well to convey the action and statistics. In addition, Amherst does it well across a number of sports. For example, their ice hockey webcasts are quite good for a volunteer enterprise; play-by-play man Hugh Campbell, an Australian who settled in the area after graduating from nearby UMass-Amherst, is consistently well-prepared and professional. Maybe Hugh would be a good short-term solution for the upcoming men’s basketball game at Amherst.

    Having said that, your letter is over-the-top in many respects. While I definitely appreciate’s free coverage, high-quality reporting and overall dedication, and can therefore understand it being frustrated by a perceived lack of respect for the occasion, some of the criticism is out of proportion. In particular, I found your criticism of our respected rival Williams to be unfair, at least on the evidence you presented (I did not watch those webcasts, either). The impression I got from your letter was that their commentators were only guilty of a lack of polish or experience. Technical difficulties happen (schools can only afford so much server space/bandwith to cope with the interest in a game), and mistakes and bad jokes tend to arise when inexperience meets the fear of dead air. An objective critique of the broadcast is one thing, telling the Williams president that his student broadcast team made the school look like a “dilapidated shack” was ridiculous. “[E]mbarrassing . . . to Division III as a whole”? Please.

    Certainly you expected something below a professional broadcast, no? Let’s definitely recognize and praise the various schools which produce a great product. However, remember that Williams and Amherst are ultimately providing the webcast to you free of charge and at their own expense; you don’t even have to suffer through enforced TV-commercial timeouts or other advertisements (note that your viewers have to deal with commercials when watching Hoopsville). Professional broadcasters are a luxury and how much money is a school reasonably expected to spend to ensure your toll-free, commercial-free, hassle-free viewing? Even in light of this, fans of Division III may still have good-faith critiques of a broadcast. Unprofessional behavior is unacceptable, and I am not one to doubt that knows how a broadcast “should be done,” but let’s keep it in perspective.

  9. Since I was in Williams this weekend, I wanted to offer a different perspective on my experience.

    Dick Quinn, who is the long-time Sports Information Director at Williams, did a superb job facilitating my coverage of this weekend’s games for D3hoops.

    He got me set up with wireless internet access, checked to make sure I had everything I needed, convinced some reluctant student athletes to do interviews with me and even came and got me for the Williams women’s press conference on Friday night, when I was preoccupied with something else. He went well beyond what I expected.

    I had very minimal interaction with the student broadcasters other than saying hello to one of the ladies on the Whitman/Emory broadcast. She was clearly excited to do the broadcast. I didn’t hear or see any of it (or any other Williams and Amherst broadcasts), so I’ll defer to Dave on the quality.

    But I did interact with other students who were supporting Dick. He had photographers shooting the game, including Merilee Weston whose photo is in your Saturday front page story. He had a student dutifully trying to type quotes from the press conferences, a tough job that I haven’t seen at many regionals. He had students web streaming the press conferences so that other schools could download the content to their website. And he had the usual stat runners, ticket takers and support staff.

    I was impressed at the level of support he gathered, especially given that Williams is a small college with no athletic management or communications department. Some students were probably trying to build professional credentials, but I assume most were just helping because it’s their work study job or they know Dick in some other capacity.

    Dick also organizes the webstream staffing, which is one of many tasks he juggles at game time. I know he was disappointed with the technical problems, which I suspect were completely beyond his control and know weren’t for lack of effort. And I’ve had way more broadcasts than I can count fall apart for technical reasons so I feel his pain acutely. 🙂

    Overall, I agree with Dave’s assessment that broadcasters — even students — should elevate their performance when the audience gets bigger and consider who that audience is. There were likely friends and family members watching the teams at the Williams regional who couldn’t make the trip from Georgia, Washington or other places. For those people, the student broadcasters are their window into that event. If the students are more interested in themselves than the audience, that’s unfortunate for more than the hosting schools.

    But I also wanted to offer a counter perspective on the non-broadcast aspects of the Williams basketball experience. The athletic program is something Williams and Amherst can be very proud of.

  10. I am an Amherst alum and I’ve watched many of the webcasts. I agree with much of what Dave has said. While I’m excited at the success of the progam, the Amherst commentators make me cringe. I listened to their webcast a week ago – I believe at one point they said “you can email and you can tweet us, but we’re still going to say what we say and act the way we act.” I used to work for the Sports Information Director’s office doing stats for football and basketball games – we knew we had to remain impartial and act professional when we sat in the press box.

    The current commentators might be right at home doing a broadcast for the school radio station – their demeanor is well suited to a casual, campus only broadcast, but it’s not appropriate for prime time. I’m surprised the SID has stepped in to say something yet.

    Regarding Williams, I watched the end of the Williams-Ithaca game tonight. I commented to my wide that the camera work looked like it was done by a junior high communications media student. I had been following the game via the Live Stats link, but that froze with 5 minutes left – no updates to their site or to the website. Oh, and don’t get me started on the SID press coverage out of Williams – someone buy them a spellchecker, please!

    Not that d3hoops gets off scot free either… I believe you had a bad link to the Amherst women’s final four webcast link (from the ncaa website). I tracked down the correct one somewhere else. Oh, and finally, the ‘h’ in Amherst is silent. I’ve listened for years to the d3sports broadcasters pronounce the school name incorrectly. Before you jump on broadcasters not getting the player’s names correct, make sure you pronounce the school name correctly!

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