September 1, 2009

Steve Hurlbut ’79 Pioneers 24-Hour College Sports Network

The Mtn. airs 160 games annually and other programs for Mountain West Conference

By Kevin Gray

Steve Hurlbut ’79 was involved in a first-of-its-kind architecture project — building a television network entirely around a collegiate athletic conference — for which there was no blueprint. As he found out, this wasn’t as much a frustrating venture as it was a liberating one.

“There weren’t pre-determined practices or standards we were forced to adhere to,” explains the government and law graduate. “In reality, it was like having a blank canvas with freedom to create almost anything we wanted.”

What Hurlbut and his colleagues created is the award-winning Mountain West Sports Network. As senior executive producer and director of programming, Hurlbut is responsible for all of the network’s on-air products, from live games to studio shows.

“When I assumed the duties of associate commissioner at the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2002, one of the primary responsibilities was running the A-10 Television Network,” he says. “Almost immediately, the television work became the favorite part of my job. When Comcast SportsNet and CBS College Sports approached me about launching [the Mountain West Sports Network], I was thrilled.”

The A-10 Network produces a syndicated package of games that different outlets ”such as Comcast SportsNet Philly, MSG Network, NESN, FoxSports Ohio, and more ”carry when it doesn’t interfere with their other programming. But the Mountain West Sports Network ”dubbed The Mtn. ”is truly its own network, with permanent channel positions on cable and satellite systems broadcasting 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. Headquartered in Centennial, Colo., The Mtn. debuted in 2006 and broadcasts sporting events for the conference’s nine NCAA Division I colleges and universities:

  • Air Force Academy
  • Brigham Young University
  • Colorado State University
  • San Diego State University
  • Texas Christian University
  • University of Nevada-Las Vegas
  • University of New Mexico
  • University of Utah
  • University of Wyoming

The Mtn. produces approximately 160 games per year in football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, baseball, and softball. The network also has a wide array of studio shows and original programming features.

“Storytelling is the essence of our game productions,” says Hurlbut. “Adding new technology is great and can aid the effort, but ultimately it is the pictures and analysis that carry the day, so we continually stress that the focus of the production has to be action. Whether the game is close or a blowout, we need to provide compelling information that will enable even a casual viewer to care about the players on the field or court and the outcome of the contest.”

The philosophy has proven to be successful. The Mtn. has won several Emmy Awards for its coverage and programming and an International Promax Award for a network identity campaign. Recently, the network was nominated for eight more Emmys and another Promax.

“We also were just nominated for a Global Media Award for one of our games,” Hurlbut says. “CBS Sports and ESPN were the only other networks to garner a nomination in this category, so to be in such company in just our third year is quite satisfying.”

The accolades are even more special considering all of the on-the-fly challenges live broadcasts pose. For example, Hurlbut recalls a basketball game The Mtn. was preparing to cover at the Air Force Academy on a Saturday.

“On Friday night, as the mobile unit was rolling to the site, a huge wind ripped the roof off the trailer, exposing all the equipment to the elements,” he says. “Obviously, that truck wasn’t able to do Saturday’s game, and there weren’t replacement trucks available in the area on short notice.”

The producers sent the announcers back to the network’s studio, along with the graphics team. On site, the crew took one camera up high to provide a full-court view and ran the feed directly into the satellite uplink. The game was called and produced from The Mtn.’s studio an hour away.

“You really can’t rehearse a live sporting event, and it is quite a rush while the game is going on to be conveying the excitement with both pictures and sound,” Hurlbut says. “Most people have no idea what goes into producing a live sporting event, nor how many things can go wrong during a game. It is a high-wire act, one that I really enjoy.”

More on Hurlbut

He serves Lafayette as an alumni admissions representative and a member of his class reunion committee and the Greater Denver Alumni Chapter’s executive committee. He volunteered on the former Alumni Council Executive Committee, provided career advice as a campus speaker and volunteer mentor, and was class correspondent. As a student, he competed in rugby and intramurals, participated in the phonathon, and was a member of Theta Chi fraternity and The Lafayette staff.

posted in Alumni

tagged with ,