Organized Chaos

The Mocs Vision crew works the game against UNCG Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021 in McKenzie Arena.

Three-woman MocsVision team are major multitaskers on game days  

Abby Walker of the MocsVision crew works the game against UNCG in McKenzie Arena.

by Chuck Wasserstrom

HHave you ever wondered how  University of Tennessee at Chattanooga  athletic highlights wind up on shows like  ESPN’s  SportsCenter? Chalk it up to the  MocsVision  crew, the  digital media services  leg of the  athletics  department.  

MocsVision  personnel  are behind- the- scenes game production workers. You  never  see them on camera, but they are very much a part of the face of UTC athletics.  Comprised of  Assistant  Athletics  Director-Digital  Media  Services Leah Gill,  Production  Director Tate Johnson and  Production  Specialist Abby Walker,  they produce  65 broadcasts of  Mocs Athletics events.  They also  create  graphics, video pieces that appear on social media,  podcasts  and many other  functions  such  as engineering, staffing  and teaching. And that doesn’t include  the grunt work of setting up, breaking down and moving equipment.  “On a game day, I usually do about three jobs,” Walker says. “We’re all good at multitasking.”  

This trio makes it  easy  for ESPN to take  Mocs  content and put it on air, bringing national and international exposure to UTC athletics.  In  a  time  when  the  University’s sports teams  had  limited  numbers of  fans  in the stands  due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more eyes have been  watching  the  MocsVision  group  than ever before.   “So  much of  what we do is practice and teamwork, just as a sports team does,” Gill says. “We always talk about  things like,  ‘That was a great broadcast;  everything fired on all cylinders.’  And to do that, everybody  has to  do their job.  Everything has to click.”  

Workload increased 

The Southern Conference’s ESPN package puts  all production responsibilities on  its  schools, and all conference members  have their own  crews producing content for  ESPN+,  a streaming subscription service considered a complement to existing ESPN content.   Usually,  MocsVision  can spread its 65-event  content  from mid-August to May. But thanks to the pandemic and the movement of most UTC fall sports to the spring, the bulk of  Mocs  events overlapped this year in February and March.  It has kept the MocsVision group busy. 

It also has given them a time to shine.  Case in point: Over one four-day stretch in February, the  Mocs  were featured in two extended segments  during  the  midnight edition of SportsCenter  and other ESPN highlight shows. “Sometimes you get a magic play, a magic moment or a magic storyline that lends itself to that,” Gill says, “but I also know if it was two-and-a-half-minutes of a broadcast  and the quality  didn’t look  right, ESPN would not give you  that. They  might mention it and show a short clip, but they’re not going to give you much  airtime  unless it’s quality.  So  it’s rewarding and feels good when that happens.”  

Tate Johnson

Gill  has been involved with Mocs  productions  since 2006  and came onboard full-time at UTC in 2011.  Her role includes overseeing  crews  for game days. For football, a crew of camera and technical personnel could be 18  to  20 people. Basketball uses some 15 people and volleyball uses six. She explains that the  ESPN+ productions  are just a part of what they  do. “We do  the  in-venue video  board  work  for basketball and football while the games are in progress, and  we also do  creative content production,”  Gill  says. “The video board is my favorite. I like to live in the game presentation world.  Abby is our point person for our ESPN broadcasts in terms of producing the game itself,  and Tate is  our  storyteller and content creator.”  These three colleagues  are  accustomed to  wearing  many hats.  

“My new normal is performing as a Swiss army knife. You can throw me wherever you need  me, and I’ll get it done, somehow,” Johnson  says. “Yesterday,  I ran graphics on a volleyball game.  It was my second time doing that but,  you know, it’s all about a learning curve.  So  I’ve been really lucky this year to be given many opportunities.”  

Working with Puzzle Pieces on fire

Walker  describes the controlled chaos as a combination of fun and frenzy.  “There’s always something happening. It’s like there are 1,000-piece puzzles around you  and you have to put them together, yet some of them are on fire.”  A  2018 graduate of the UTC School of Communication,  Walker  has  a laundry list of to-dos on game day, including—but not limited to—getting  team  rosters, head shots, creating  graphics, updating statistics, uncovering key storylines, writing the scripts  and  making sure  she has the  commercials and the  sponsor logos  the broadcast needs.  “I would say my mindset as a producer is,  ‘How much can I do pregame to make it easier on  the crew and me?’  Gameday is usually  chaotic,  and you never know what’s going to happen,” she says. “And  if something does happen during the broadcast,  you have to do it all quietly.  

“Nobody at home can know you’re having problems.  It’s very much Wizard of Oz, paying attention to the people behind the curtain. You’re on  a  headset and you have to communicate everything with your crew, whether you can see it or not, and you have to know all the puzzles in your head.”  Under ordinary circumstances, there is constant juggling.  

Leah Gill

But the pandemic has  changed their way of doing business. 

“An  interesting challenge for us has been  our normal pregame  routine,” Gill says. “Normally,  we  get the entire team together before games to  talk. With COVID, our whole crew could get contact-traced if one person gets in contact with a virus-positive person. We don’t want to have to cancel broadcasts, so we’ve had to change the way we do things.”  

Because Mocs football was postponed last fall, the  MocsVision  group  produced tennis  and golf  for the first time, “and there wasn’t much  of a  blueprint on how to do those,” Walker says.  “Golf was something that we hadn’t seen, and we were excited for the opportunity to  take on a new production. It was  definitely an  experience, and I learned a lot from it.  And then we were able to do tennis, too, and I really enjoyed that.”  

When non-revenue sports  such as tennis and golf  get television coverage, it  becomes a  tremendous  recruiting tool for those program coaches.  “Absolutely,” Gill says, “and we were excited to do our work for those sports.  We are also going to be doing soccer for the first time on ESPN  in the spring.  So  once again  there  will be a case of,  ‘All right, let it  fly and see where it goes.’”  

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