Play-by-play class launches at Virginia Tech

By Bill Roth

This semester, as part of Virginia Tech's Sports Media & Analytics program, we launched our first-ever play-by-play class for students.

We spent about a year visiting with several schools and others who have run play-by-play camps over the years. We also got input from a dozens of broadcasters at various networks.

The initial focus points are the basics of radio play-by-play broadcasting, so on the very first day of class, we listened to the best 10-mintues in the history of radio play-by-play broadcasting that I could find: Vin Scully calling the bottom of the ninth inning of Dennis Martinez' no-hitter agains the Dodgers from 1991. Want to be captivated by the best ever? Spend 10 minutes and listen to this audio artistry: 

The students in this class don't need motivation, but they found Vin to be inspiring and captivating, which is exactly what he has done for millions of us over the years, right?

In this class, we go through the basics of broadcasting, and preparation, and storylines, and how to actually broadcast a game, but the best teacher is actually calling the action, right?  So our students will be calling games/making demo tapes at Virginia Tech basketball and baseball games this spring. They'll have a chance to call soccer and other sports as we try to groom young broadcasters to be able to call Tech events on our digital platforms.  But what about football?  What about NFL or NBA games?  We needed to duplicate stadiums and arenas, but in a lab setting.


During a brainstorming session last summer, my friend Tony Caridi, who is the play-by-play broadcaster at West Virginia University and who is teaching a similar class at WVU, came up with a brilliant idea.  "Why don't we recreate NFL and NBA games on an Xbox or Playstation?"    I suggested we find a big screen, adjust the settings so the crowd is loud, but the announcers on the game are muted, and create, at least from an audio standpoint,  a real stadium atmosphere.  

So last summer, we bought a PS4, configured the computer to play itself, projected the action onto a massive screen in one of our brand new digital classrooms, turned the volume up to ear-numbing levels and guess what? It was identical to being at the stadium.

Fast forward to this spring semester: The students in the class picked a game: NFC Championship Game between the Vikings and Eagles to broadcast.  Just like the actual broadcasters, the students had one week to download game notes from each team and prepare charts/spotting boards, (BTW, students give major props to the Eagles' PR staff for killer game notes!) 

They'll have four opportunities to call this game.  And therein likes the beauty of the PS4.  Each game is random.  Each play is random. While the kids know the players, we have no idea what might happen on the screen during the game. And the individual plays and results will change for the next game.  It's amazingly realistic.

In fact, in one simulation, the Eagles' Patrick Robinson returned an interception for a touchdown, just like he did in the actual game on January 21.  Click on the video to see the in-class experience.

Nothing beats doing a real game at a stadium or gym.  And the kids in this class will do that in the coming months. But in the meantime, they'll have the chance to call games in what's essentially a true 'play-by-play lab' on Virginia Tech's campus.


PK's Back to School: PK's in Blacksburg will be highlighting the work being done by Virginia Tech students in the SMA program. Now celebrating 25 years of operation, PK's serves delicious food including its famous hot wings and pizza. Located right across from the Virginia Tech campus, PK’s provides a unique social environment where the town and the college meet.

Click on the PK's Logo to learn more about one of Blacksburg's great traditions.

William Rothpast