Sports media and analytics students shine in professional broadcasts
If you build it, they will come.
That’s the mindset Bill Roth, a professor of practice, adopted when he pioneered Virginia Tech’s Sports Media and Analytics program back in 2016. The program officially became a major in what is now the School of Communication in 2020, and it’s reaching new heights this year.
Sports have looked different in 2021, but that hasn’t stopped Virginia Tech’s sports media and analytics students from gaining experience on air. In nearly unprecedented fashion, six students in the program professionally broadcasted athletic events happening in the area over the first two weekends of March.
“Everyone bought into, ‘We can do this at Virginia Tech.’ This is an example of what happens,” said Roth, the long-time Voice of the Hokies, who provided radio play-by-play for Virginia Tech football and men’s basketball for 27 years. “Students are coming to Virginia Tech because of the opportunities they have in the classroom and on the air. It’s unique and it happened fast, but it shouldn’t be surprising because of the umbrella of support we’ve received from everyone.”
Those opportunities have been enhanced by the ACC Network. Launched in 2019, the network brought local production opportunities to college campuses. It’s been built to the point where sports media and analytics undergraduates are relied upon weekly to broadcast these games on the digital network.
Juniors Jake Lyman and Emily Gray, for example, called the Virginia Tech men’s soccer match against Duke as the play-by-play announcer and color commentator, respectively, on March 6. It was Lyman’s debut for the ACC Network and the second game in which Gray, a midfielder on Virginia Tech’s women’s soccer team, has provided her expertise as the analyst.
“It’s really special to go to a school like Virginia Tech, be part of the up-and-coming sports media and analytics program, and have people from Virginia Tech Athletics not only help me achieve my goals on the field but also provide me with some amazing experiences,” Gray said. “To be able to broadcast professionally beyond my playing days is certainly a dream, so having opportunities to call games on the ACC Network is special for me.”
In that same weekend, junior Kevin DiDomenico served as the play-by-play voice for all three Virginia Tech baseball games versus North Carolina. On March 13, sophomore Tyler Katz made his debut as the play-by-play announcer for the Hokies’ showdown with Clemson in men’s soccer alongside Gray. All these games were distributed on ACC Network Extra, the streaming-only option found on WatchESPN.
“I like to think we’re all in the positions we’re in today because somebody, somewhere along the way gave us a shot,” said Eric Frey, Virginia Tech’s senior director of ACC Network operations. “We have a great resource here at Virginia Tech with the Sports Media and Analytics program. We’ve seen demo reels and had many conversations with this group of young announcers. I’m looking forward to working with them and seeing how they capitalize on this opportunity.”
It’s not just the ACC Network that has taken notice of the talent emanating from the School of Communication studio in the Moss Arts Center. Other colleges want Virginia Tech students working their sporting events, too.
In 2019, Katz, a Florida native, was called upon to do play-by-play for a Florida International University women’s basketball game. Meanwhile, DiDomenico served as the home voice for all Radford University men’s and women’s basketball games in the 2020–21 season.
“It means a ton that the ACC Network and Radford trust me to be on the air for their games,” DiDomenico said. “I think it’s a testament to what Bill Roth has created here at Tech and the confidence that Radford and the ACC Network have in our Sports Media and Analytics program. They know our program’s standards and know the product that’s expected from us.”
These opportunities arise left and right for the students in the program. While DiDomenico was calling the Virginia Tech baseball series for ACC Network Extra, senior Evan Hughes was in the next booth doing play-by-play radio for the Virginia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College. Freshman Nick Brown also made his first appearance as the radio play-by-play voice for Radford High School football on WRAD.
As a result, the popularity of the major has climbed exponentially. Nearly 400 high school seniors applied for the program this year. Still, Roth makes it known that the students don’t arrive on campus and immediately get on the air. It’s the outcome of those students assiduously working behind the scenes to enhance their development and become true professionals through 3304 Sports, a student-run multimedia platform for student sports journalism at Virginia Tech.
“I’m really proud when a North Carolina or Florida State fan, coach, or administrator goes back and watches these games and they have no idea that the play-by-play announcer is a Virginia Tech student,” Roth said. “It’s just an outstanding broadcaster who respects the ACC, respects the craft, and can do a great job regardless of the team.”
The sports media and analytics major has been built from the ground up, Roth said, with the support of so many, including leaders of Virginia Tech, the School of Communication, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and Virginia Tech Athletics. Now the foundation is in place for sustained success for years to come.
“I am so proud of all these opportunities our students are getting,” said Hughes, who helped illustrate the program’s strength when he placed second among collegiate broadcasters nationally in the Sportscasters Talent Agency of America (STAA) All-American for 2020.
“They’re my friends, too, and to see them succeed is just awesome,” Hughes added. “To see where the program is now compared to when I arrived in 2017 is really cool. I can’t wait for the next 10 years to see where we are in 2031!”
— Written by Cory Van Dyke