NIU Media Services has supported the NIU football team with film/video support for their coaches’ evaluation for over 25 years. First with film, switching to video in the early 1990s and moving from two cameras to four cameras in 2008. Throughout this time, Media Services has upgraded the camera formats several times to stay current with new technology.
Platforms and lifts help acquire an end zone view from as high an angle as possible. The use of the lift has been in place since the days of two camera shoots and has been a standard practice at NIU as well as at other universities since the 1990s.
Two of the four cameras operate from secure locations on wings of the press box in Huskie Stadium. These locations are protected from the elements. One camera is operated from on top of a semi-permanent platform structure attached to the south end zone scoreboard. The last camera has been operating from a maintenance lift stationed on the field at the north end zone.
One of the major concerns with using lifts and platforms is the safety of the camera operators, usually students, especially during inclement weather.
Media Services always promoted safety in all operations of lift and platform taping. Students were always instructed that they had the ability to lower the lifts or come down from the lifts and platforms if they felt unsafe. However, no written protocols were ever published.
Following the Notre Dame lift tragedy in the Fall of 2010, Media Services immediately began an aggressive and formalized retraining of all lift and platform operators, including full-time and part-time supervisors.
At the same time, NIU President John G. Peters tasked Media Services to lead a workgroup to develop a written policy for the safe operation of lifts and platforms at Huskie Stadium. This group included representatives from Intercollegiate Athletics, Human Resource Services, the General Council, Physical Plant, Environmental Health and Safety and the university meteorologist.
An initial working draft was implemented shortly after the beginning of this group’s discussions, fall protection gear was acquired and safety training on its use was implemented. The draft was vetted through the leadership of the university, and the final policy was published on March 10, 2011.
One of the problems that was encountered was how to keep four cameras rolling if the weather conditions required the lift and platform cameras to return to the ground. Alternate positions identified were the roof of the stadium under protective cover and/or the balcony of the Yordon Center, which had a very low shooting angle. One option that was explored was the roof of the Yordon Center, but structural engineers determined that this was unsound and would lead to roof damage without considerable remodeling.
Media Services initially proposed the idea of using robotic cameras for the end zones to the NIU football coaching staff in the fall of 2010. Strategically, Media Services leveraged the knowledge gained from the installation and operation of robotic cameras for the NIU School of Music’s highly successful Internet2 performances.
Media Services began designing the system in December 2010 and tested it in February 2011 using demo equipment with the help of Tom Burns, Chicago-based broadcast consultant. The decision to implement the cameras was delayed while a new football coaching staff was brought in. Once approved in the spring of 2011, the Director of Media Services committed to installing the cameras using his own departmental funds with the primary goal being the safety of students and staff.
The project consisted of two phases: Phase One was the installation of the north end zone camera on the under hang of the roof at the Yordon Center. This phase was funded entirely by Media Services and was completed in September 2011.
Phase Two was the installation of the south end zone camera. The equipment and installation was funded by Media Services, and the fiber optic cable installation was funded by NIU Information Technology Services under the leadership of Wally Czerniak. This was completed in mid-October 2011.
NIU's pioneering effort to ensure student and staff safety has completely eliminated the need for lifts and scaffolding in the end zones during every football practice, not just in inclement weather. Plans are currently underway to include robotic cameras in the new Chessick Indoor Practice Facility.