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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

Covering Cross Country

Last Saturday, the Big Ten held their cross country championships for the 2020-21 academic year. While holding the meet in January was unique, given that it was more than six weeks out from the scheduled NCAA Championships, it offered other coaches (like me) the opportunity to watch the livestream, which was provided by the Big Ten Network.

It was the best production of a cross country meet I've ever seen.

What has always been lacking from other broadcasts is the real-time context and data needed for the viewer to be engaged in both the individual and team races. BTN offered that information throughout the race, compete with logos, headshot photos, scoring summaries, and splits with arrows indicating if a runner or team was moving up or down in the field.

Take a look:

The only critique of BTN's coverage was the shots at the finish. Instead of showing the line so fans could see each runner come through (and decide the team race), the camera remained fixated on the top finishers to show their reaction (or, in some cases, their exhaustion).

To be fair, when I analyzed a number of races from other sports, namely, NASCAR, cycling, and Formula 1, having the camera follow the winner seems to be standard practice. Granted, in those sports, team scores may not be as important. Furthermore, because of the crowd size, the broadcast usually pans to the winner's coach, agent, significant other, or family member.

Diving back into cross country broadcasts, I was able to find a meet that got the finish line right. When Flotrack covered the 2017 NCAA Cross Country Championships, they stuck with the overhead camera at the finish line as all the runners came through. Even after the top team scores were decided, they moved to a split screen, continuing to show the finishers while the winner, Justyn Knight, was interviewed. Take a look (start the video at the 28:20 mark to see the finish).

Moving forward, I think we're very close to figuring out how to make cross country coverage entertaining. Pair BTN's graphics and commentary (well done, Declan Murray) with how Flotrack covered the finish at NCAA's in 2017, and we've got something even the most casual of fans will enjoy.

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