Big Ten Network gives former student-athletes invaluable broadcasting experience

Last week, the four-day B1G Experience at the network’s River North office gave 16 participants the chance to learn about various aspects of sports media, from studio and game analysis to interviewing to makeup and styling.

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Josh Imatorbhebhe, a former University of Illinois wide receiver, has a conversation with sportscaster Mike Hall on camera during Big Ten Network’s Big Experience, a four-day seminar that trains former Big Ten athletes who are interested in a sports media career, at the network’s office in River North on June 28, 2023. Sixteen students participated in the workshop, which allowed them to build sports broadcasting skills, such as interviewing on camera, and leave with a professional reel.

Former Illinois wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe talks with Big Ten Network host Mike Hall on camera during the B1G Experience last week.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Hearing Mike Hall from across the Big Ten Network studio wasn’t a problem. The veteran host has strong pipes and the ability to project. Hearing analyst Josh Imatorbhebhe, on the other hand, was difficult.

In his defense, it was the former Illinois wide receiver’s first time at a network anchor desk. After the segment, BTN vice president of studio production Quentin Carter walked in to provide some coaching.

“Bring me some energy. A little too calm,” he said. “Let’s do that one more time.”

This wasn’t live TV. Carter was observing on a closed feed from a conference room with network colleagues and other aspiring broadcasters. It was part of the B1G Experience, a four-day event last week at the network’s River North office that gave former Big Ten student-athletes the chance to learn about various aspects of sports media, from studio and game analysis to interviewing to makeup and styling.

Quentin Carter (in green), vice president of studio production at Big Ten Network, watches a student speak on camera during Big Ten Network’s B1G Experience, a seminar that trains former Big Ten athletes who are interested in a sports media career, at Big Ten Network’s office in the River North neighborhood, Wednesday, June 28, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Quentin Carter (in green), vice president of studio production at the Big Ten Network, watches a student speak on camera during BTN’s B1G Experience, a seminar that trains former Big Ten athletes who are interested in a sports-media career.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Executives, producers and talent worked with the 16 participants, who received a video of their work that could be sent to prospective employers. One such employer could be BTN, which put six of 14 participants of its inaugural event last year on the air. The network reached out to recent conference graduates and posted on social media to solicit applicants. More than 60 applied this year.

“We are unique in that we’re owned by Fox Sports and the conference, so we have a priority around educational experiences,” BTN president Francois McGillicuddy said. “We wanted to find an opportunity for student-athletes specifically. It was just natural for us because it’s a great opportunity to identify new talent and diversify our top talent pool.”

Francois McGillicuddy, president of the Big Ten Network, stands in his office in the River North neighborhood, Wednesday, June 28, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Francois McGillicuddy, president of the Big Ten Network.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

BTN already had Student U., a program that gives students the chance to produce events that appear on Big Ten Plus. It soon will host BTN NOW (Network Operations Workshop), which brings to Chicago the best of those students who work on the technical side. But the B1G Experience is primarily for student-athletes, who are provided transportation, lodging and meals and are paid an hourly rate.

Of local interest, Illinois’ Imatorbhebhe and Mike LaTulip (basketball) and Northwestern’s Hallie DeVore (track and field, cross country) and Jared Thomas (football) participated. Imatorbhebhe came closest to a major professional career, signing with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent before injuries derailed him. But the seed for a potential career in media was planted in the run-up to the 2021 NFL Draft.

“I had an interview with [NFL Network’s] ‘Good Morning Football,’ ” said Imatorbhebhe, who gained fame for a 46.5-inch vertical jump at Illinois’ pro day that would’ve been an NFL Scouting Combine record. “Kay Adams said, ‘You have a career in this, if you really want to. You could take our jobs.’ They were playing around, but that was always in the back of my mind.”

For the last year, Imatorbhebhe has been a strategy analyst for Deloitte in New York. He’s looking to make a change.

“I want to share my story because I feel like I’ve gone through too much for me to just work a job from 9 to 5,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m thankful that I have the infrastructure to be able to make that transition. But I feel like I’ve got insight that people are looking for. Anybody can talk about numbers and stats, but they don’t have the experiences that happened behind the scenes.”

Jared Thomas, a former offensive lineman at Northwestern University’s football team, conducts an interview during Big Ten Network’s Big Experience, a seminar that trains former Big Ten athletes who are interested in a sports media career, at Big Ten Network’s office in the River North neighborhood, Wednesday, June 28, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Jared Thomas, a former offensive lineman at Northwestern, conducts an interview during the B1G Experience. Participants learn interviewing skills at the workshop.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Thomas was an offensive lineman in the USFL last year and the XFL this year. He’s hoping to use that expertise as an analyst.

“Most times when you look at football broadcasts, everyone sees the game from a quarterback’s perspective,” he said. “An offensive lineman is sometimes overlooked. So how can I capitalize being in a unique position on the field and bring that to broadcasting so people can understand in a different way and still get the same value as if they were listening to a quarterback.”

Carter has been in the TV business for more than 35 years, working for MSG Network, CBS Sports, ESPN and other outlets. He has been with BTN since its launch in 2007. He knows what he’s looking for from the participants.

“A lot of our student-athletes have done interviews but not really doing it on a professional level,” he said. “What I’ll try to do here is see who’s capable of being an analyst knowing the game but knowing how to articulate it where the avid person understands it but also the average person understands it.

“One thing about student-athletes that I’ve learned over the past 16 years now, they are very coachable. And not just on the field or on the court. That’s what a lot of them keep saying: I want to be coached.”

Imatorbhebhe took to Carter’s coaching on his second try in the studio, delivering his thoughts with energy. After all, as BTN vice president of remote production Alex Bertsche put it, “This is entertainment.”

“We don’t think of what we’re doing as more important than that,” he said. “We’re looking for their ability to talk editorially, give the content, but say it in a way that’s digestible and fun. We want their personalities to shine.”

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