For the past several weeks, Erinn Casey has focused on NCAA basketball and social media. Among other tasks, she has inserted the highlights from the men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments into tweets.

Casey, a 20-year-old digital sports production major from Downers Grove, Illinois, has been providing fans of March Madness with the best social media experience possible.

“I watch the game for a key play, find the video, transform it into an animated GIF and send it to the NCAA, which will then post it on social media, “ she said. “Social media has become a big part of March Madness. Not only do fans watch the games; they also follow along on social media.”

A student and her instructor look at a mobile phone and NCAA bracket as they talk about scheduling.

Lauren Krupica, freshman, and Chris Taylor, senior director of digital sports production, review scheduling.

Casey is one of 30 students with Ball State’s Sports Link, the nation’s first fully immersive digital sports production program, supporting the NCAA’s social media efforts during the tournaments.

They’ve created a home for the NCAA March Madness Social Media Hub in the Department of Telecommunications. The room is filled with large screen televisions, laptops and food – lots of food.

“Since starting this partnership six years ago, our students have shown they know the importance of quality and accuracy while being deadline oriented,” said Chris Taylor, a lecturer of telecommunications and senior director of digital sports production. “Social media is extremely fast, and we make sure to get the right stuff — whether it’s video, GIFs or other types of information — to the NCAA as quickly as possible while respecting the brands of the NCAA, March Madness and all the corporate partners.” 

By the time the tournaments ended with the women’s championship (held on Sunday, April 2, in Dallas,) and the men’s championship held in Phoenix on April 3, the students will have followed all 132 games, logging more than 300 hours of basketball, producing real-time highlights and GIFs, and programming the social content for in-venue displays at all men’s tournament locations.

Students also will have curated tens of millions of tweets and social impressions during the tournament.

“Our students are learning the expectations of a consumer on a second screen and even third screen, are almost as high as they are if they are watching on a big screen,” said Taylor, who noted that Alex Kartman, a telecommunications and director of digital sports production, would be working directly with the NCAA from Phoenix during the Final Four. “Unlike several years ago when it was just a few of their friends posting on social media about the tournament, now the second screen is part of the event.

“Our students realize that the NCAA tournaments are a major event from the standpoint of branding, rights fees and viewership,” he said. “These students are making sure to put out the right messages with the right information. That is key.”

A student and instructor watch NCAA basketball action for reporting.

Tyler Bradfield, a graduate student, and Alex Kartman, director of digital sports production, keep tabs on the NCAA action, assembling GIFs for social media.

While the games are serious business — on the playing floor, in the corporate suites and host arenas — Adrian Jarding, a 20-year-year from Carmel, enjoys the thought of fans seeing video and tweets on the in-house screens at arenas across the country.

He wonders what those fans would think if they realized those screens are populated with his work, done from campus often thousands of miles away?

“It’s crazy to think about. We are sitting here at Ball State, but my work pops (up) in arenas in Greenville, North Carolina; Dayton, Ohio; and Sacramento, California,” said Jarding, a sophomore majoring in digital sports production.

“Social media is currently growing at a fantastic rate,” he said. “There is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and who knows what is going to be out there in five years. Because of the skills I am acquiring now, I know that I am going to be highly valued when I graduate in a few years. But right now, I like pushing this stuff out and connecting with the fans. Everyone is excited about the tournament.”