When you are flipping through channels on TV and eventually land on a basketball game, what do you notice?
Sure, you see different angles of ten players running up and down the court and the miniature scoreboard that tells you who is ahead and how much time is left. You see replays of the best, most intense action and you hear the announcers’ excited tones as they describe what’s happening on-screen.
Sometimes, you might be too preoccupied with rooting for your favorite team, or for some people, the squad they happen to have money on that night. But do you ever wonder how it all comes together, especially during a global pandemic?
At Marist, the answer lies within an unlikely core of individuals that have developed as much chemistry as any team on campus. There are the veterans that have been there before like Maria Quiroz, an experienced member of the Red Fox Network, and the on-screen talent: Geoff Brault, Dean Darling, and Steve Eggink.
Then, there are puzzle pieces that do not seem to fit at first. Harrison Baker is the Associate Athletic Director and Chief Diversity Officer for Athletics at Marist. Mike Kagafas was a former linebacker for the Red Foxes and now coaches that position group at his alma mater.
“We all put a bit of ourselves into the broadcast,” said Quiroz. “We talk to each other and see how we’re going to get things done. We’re a team. We bounce ideas off one another and see what works.”
Quiroz is in charge of, among other things, preparing the rundowns for the games. The rundown is the outline of the broadcast that keeps everyone aware of what’s coming next. Preparing to go on the air is not something that the crew takes lightly. They need to gather information on the opposing team, talk to coaches, put the graphics packages together, and come to McCann hours before tip-off to make sure everything is ready for gametime.
“You have to over-prepare,” said Brault, the knowledgeable women’s basketball play-by-play announcer. “Once the game starts you have no idea what’s going to happen. We can sit here on Tuesday and talk about what the storylines are going to be but that could all be out the window by Friday or Saturday when the game starts. It’s about preparing for every eventuality.”
Once the weekend rolls around, the outsiders, Baker and Kagafas, find themselves in critically important positions. But how?
“Leading up to the season, we had to figure out a way to do these broadcasts with as few people as possible and keep our circle tight,” said Baker, who returned to work at his alma mater this August after a stint as Associate Director of Graphic Design and Digital Strategy at Tulane.
“From there, Tim Murray directed us as a team to figure out how to avoid bringing in outside help.”
When the students are away for the winter, the school usually hires freelancers to fill their positions. With everything extra-complicated because of COVID-19, the normal solution went by the wayside.
“We had to make our team very small, which cut out a lot of those control room positions,” continued Baker. “That’s why all of us are taking on different roles at different points in the week.”
The first thing Baker tried was replay, but when that fell through, he moved to the director’s chair. As the director, his main responsibility is to tell the story of the game by determining what camera shots go on screen. He must also stay in communication with the camera operators and other people involved in the broadcast like Quiroz, who handles replay. The in-game interaction with the on-air talent falls to Kagafas, who handles the graphics.
“The communication was what I was most worried about,” said Kagafas, who started at linebacker for the Red Foxes football team through all of 2013 and 2014. “The most difficult thing for me is talking to the talent and then talking to the guys in the studio. Sometimes I end up ignoring Harrison and Maria because I’m so locked in talking to the talent. That was a difficult thing for me, having no broadcast experience, and dealing with vets who you don’t want to interrupt because they know what they’re doing.”
Despite the challenges of the job, Brault, who does the most talking of anyone on the broadcast not just to his colleague Eggink but also to the studio, thinks the crew has a handle on how to communicate during the action.
“A lot of people, when they start to produce and direct games for the first time either don’t communicate enough or communicate way too much,” Brault explained. “This group has just nailed it from the very beginning.”
“It’s like we understand each other without speaking to each other,” Quiroz added. “For example, we don’t tell (Kagafas) to do something, he feels what to do. It’s unspoken communication.”
Kagafas’ path to graphics is reminiscent of the MAAC’s convoluted basketball scheduling, which is like a game of musical chairs. Originally, he was supposed to be on the cameras, along with some other football coaches. But when he came back after Thanksgiving he found out he was on graphics. It turned out to be a match made in heaven.
“I remember the first question asked was if there was any backup option,” Kagafas said. “The response, ‘There isn’t’, so that was it, I was in. I just kind of took the reins and rolled from there. I’m blessed to have these guys around me who know what they’re doing.”
Kagafas might be new to the job, but his work on one of the toughest aspects of the broadcast has already garnered praise from his colleagues.
“What he’s done has made the overall product so much better,” Brault said. “The graphics are like the third arm of the broadcast, they’re part of the story you’re trying to tell. I don’t know if people understand how many graphics you need to have ready, because you have to prepare them before the broadcast. The depth and quality of his graphics make a huge difference.”
Even though Kagafas enjoys creating all sorts of wacky graphics, he gets the most satisfaction out of being prepared.
“One of the most fun things about the job is when you time up your graphics perfectly with what the broadcast is saying,” he said. “Sometimes you get the feeling that someone’s about to say something and boom, you have it ready.”
The crew knows not to take themselves too seriously. They try to keep things light and have fun during the broadcasts. When you work closely with a group for a sustained period, inside jokes tend to develop, and they keep the crew going.
“It’s just the little things that get us laughing,” Baker said. “At the end of the day, it’s basketball. They’re playing a game and we’re having fun watching it. Hopefully, if we’re having fun in there, it translates.”
Naturally, most of the work the crew puts in goes unnoticed by viewers because of its behind-the-scenes. Brault, one of the faces and voices of the operation, is quick to say that his co-workers are underappreciated.
“It is almost by nature a thankless job because no one knows who you are and what you’re doing,” said Brault. “If you do your job to the best of your ability, you’re invisible. Your job is to have no one notice you, and that’s why it’s important to me to acknowledge other people’s work. I’m very keen on making sure the people that are doing the very hard work get the credit they deserve.”
This team spirit was evident when they made sure to mention technical producer Mark Phillips, who is probably the most overlooked person on the staff.
“He is a wizard,” Brault said. “When something breaks, he fixes it. When something needs to be created, he creates it. He is the man.”
“He’s taught me everything I need to know in there,” Baker added. “He’s there every step of the way. If I need something I call him or FaceTime him and he’ll break it down in a super confusing way, but we’ll eventually get to the root of it.”
It may seem like a thankless job to us at home, but the crew does not see it that way. After all, they have each other.
“Geoff said it was a thankless job, but I really don’t think so,” Kagafas said. “When he appreciates it, I’m good. When Maria’s happy, I’m good. When I fist-bump Harrison after a great broadcast, I’m good. That’s why I do it, that’s all I need. This group is special.”
“You don’t do it for attention,” Baker said. “You do it for the people in that room. Luckily, all of us have the same mentality and there are no egos to deal with. Everyone is being the best version of themselves.”
When you put people with various degrees of sports backgrounds in a room together, there is one thing you should expect to see: competition. Instead of fighting among themselves, the crew wants to channel their efforts into elevating the quality of the broadcasts.
“It’s awesome to have people this passionate about what they do,” Quiroz said. “We’re trying to help each other become the best instead of just average. We want to be the best in the MAAC and possibly go beyond that.”
Next time you are watching basketball, whether it be Marist or some other game, think about everything that goes into the operation. Think about the communication that you do not see or hear, think about the camera people, who always have to be ready, and think about the people back in the studio who have put in a week’s worth of work just to air a two-hour game. It might change the way you watch basketball.
Edited by Dave Connelly