Written By: Aaron Van Auken | @vanauken03
Assistant Director of Video Operations/Producer for Hail State Productions
Mississippi State University
2014 Ball State Sports Link Alumni
With 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter on a chilly Saturday night in Mississippi, 64,307 people stood in silence. Then, they erupted.
Mississippi State cornerback Will Redmond had just made a game-winning interception in the end zone to lift the No.1 ranked Bulldogs over Arkansas – keeping Mississippi State undefeated, and leading to an 8-0 start.
Meanwhile, down in the control room, the director of the video board show called out camera shots to show the celebration.
“Ready three, take three. Ready one, take one. Lewis, find me Coach (Dan) Mullen. I think he’s on the sideline… Right there. On the 20 walking out. Ready two, I mean take three, take three. ”
Everyone in the control room was excited, but we had let out only a few claps as the interception happened, and then it was back to work. Justin called out the shots as I punched them up to the two massive video boards (each board is nearly 21,000 square feet – and no, that is NOT a typo). I put up the Crossfire machine, generating the quick transition that comes before a replay, then punched up the replay.
After the game clock hit zero, I traded spots with one of my bosses who took over the technical directing spot so I could head outside to help film the coach’s show and break down some equipment.
Mississippi State is currently ranked number one in the AP, Coaches, and College Football Playoff ranking systems, the first time in school history. And let me tell you, it is just as fun to work here as it currently is to be a fan here.
But let me start a little farther back in the timeline.
How It Started
In late 2012, the higher-ups at ESPN were working to materialize the concept of what would be the SEC Network. Because of that, all of the SEC schools were given a lot of money. They also got the opportunity to get constant coverage on their conference and athletic events that would normally have been ignored.
In December 2013, Senior Assoc. AD for External Affairs Scott Wetherbee made the trip from Starkville, MS, to Muncie to meet with SL Director Chris Taylor. They had been college buddies – Wetherbee went to Ball State back when CT still had hair and worked as a student with athletics. Wetherbee was building a video department at Mississippi State from the ground up, and had come for advice and inspiration from one of the leading programs in the country.
After being wowed by the students’ space, university facilities, and quality of work by the students at Ball State and in SL, CT texted me saying “Hey, my guy from MS state is here, potential job opportunity. You interested?”
Uhh, heck yes I was interested. It was December of my senior year of college and I was just getting ready to start the exhausting job hunt that scares every human being that is six months from graduation.
I met with Scott for about 20 minutes and talked about what we had done in Sports Link, and what they were planning to do at Mississippi State. He continually made comments about how CT had talked me up – and asked questions about the live directing and feature story experience I had. And I will never forget the last thing he said to me as the chat ended – “It was good to meet you, and let’s see if we can’t get you a job.”
Are you kidding me? A hint of a job offer, after 20 minutes of my first informal interview? That was the LAST thing I expected to hear. It really got me very excited, and I started thinking about how or why that would happen. Was I that impressive? Maybe, but it didn’t seem to me that would be the explanation. Almost a year removed from that moment, I now know what it was that had set me apart.
A combination of my training, education, experience, reputation, accomplishments, my relationships with professors, and their relationships with other people had gotten me to that spot. And ALL of those things were things I had learned or gained in Sports Link during the three years I was a part of it. I can’t take much credit for most of my success – except for making the career-oriented choice to come to Ball State instead of running track at Anderson or IWU.
Why Ball State Sports Link?
At Ball State, you are lucky. You are surrounded by people who sincerely care about you, your work, and your future. There is an atmosphere of positivity, and a certain conditioning of excellence that you receive by being in Sports Link.
You will learn the correct way to do things, and the best way to do things. You will touch equipment that is probably worth more than your car – on your first day in Sports Link. You will have the training from guys who are truly experts at what they do, and you will be helped along the way by professors and older students who truly know how to lead. Everything about the program sets you up for success.
In SL, you will meet some of the biggest names in sports media, who will then give you advice on how to do certain things to be successful. The funny part is that after a while you will start to sense a theme in what they are all saying, and then you will realize that many of those tips are things you are already doing – because you were taught to do so in SL. It is incredible how all of that perspective has hit me after leaving, so I figured I would help you get ahead of the curve and let you know early: you have it good. Really good.
At Mississippi State
Back in the present day, I am still seeing the benefits of my experience in SL. At Mississippi State, I am the Assistant Director of Video Operations for Athletics. Sounds pretty cool right? Well, although the title makes it sound a little more important than the job probably is, it is still an indicator of what is possible for someone just leaving Ball State and entering the real world. The other guy they hired to the same position that I hold is 32 years old.
I get the best of both worlds, working on live productions and doing post produced work. I have directed and produced for the digital side of the SEC Network, while still working on highlight videos and features. In February, I’ll begin working on an all-access show about the baseball team similar to SL’s “Out of the Shadows”. The weekly football highlight videos our department, Hail State Productions, creates have gotten upwards of 126,000 views on YouTube. This drives up the views on all of the other things we produce. Mississippi State has just added a brand new video board in the basketball arena, and I’ll probably work in several positions over the course of the winter for those productions.
I’ve even had the opportunity to pick up new skills, learning to be a technical director in order to work that spot for SEC football games, which is a huge responsibility for someone who had only run the board twice before the first game. But that is the amount of trust they have in me, and they know I have a reputation of being a quick learner – a skill I learned in Sports Link.
And now, I’m reaping the benefits. Mississippi State football is ranked number one in the country, we have a new stadium renovation complete with a studio and office space in the works, and the baseball team I’ll be covering is bringing in the number two recruiting class in the country. There is an atmosphere of positivity, and a certain conditioning of excellence. Sounds familiar, right?
It’s Up To You
Some people believe in karma, others say that luck plays a factor in your success. I’m a big proponent of working hard and earning everything you get, and so far that philosophy has worked out. I’ve also found out that the harder you work, the easier it is for you to get lucky, and sometimes you’ll get a surprise benefit of something you did or a decision you made months and years earlier.
But the biggest thing to know is that when you have a door open for you, run through it. Take advantage of all of the opportunities you can. And when it comes to doors, Sports Link is like the pearly gates. Take advantage of the chances you have in Muncie, because you are learning how to be the best. And employers love to hire the best. The best always have options when it comes to a job, not chances.
So now, it is up to you.
Whether you are a prospective student or a current member of the program, you have a choice. You can choose to come to BSU and get great experience. You can choose to take on bigger responsibilities in SL and make it your number one priority. You will be given a door, and as the 12-time Emmy winning producer Steve Scheer told me, “You have to break down that door.”