by Travis Williams
COURTSIDE COMMENTARY: David Cunningham (left) and Sheton Moss break down hoops during one of the few games during this year’s ACC men’s basketball tournament.
David Cunningham hoped the 2020 ACC Men’s basketball tournament would be an opportunity to witness history in the making, but he never expected the off-court story that would dominate the experience.
“All of a sudden the clock at the arena just stops, and everyone [in the media] gets the same email,” said Cunningham, a rising senior at Virginia Tech, as he recounted the events that unfolded during the tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina. “It [the email] said, ‘The ACC is canceling the tournament, and Florida State has been named the champion.’
Cunningham, who is majoring in sports media and analytics, was one of six Virginia Tech students who were granted unprecedented access to cover the 14 games of the tournament for 3304 Sports, a student-led, multimedia journalism platform, as a part of the university’s Topics in Sports Communications course.
“When we launched 3304 Sports, one of our goals was to get our students to cover the ACC Tournament and experience one of the great events in sports,” said Bill Roth, professor of practice in the Department of Communication. “The conference was terrific in granting credentials to our student broadcasters. They got to call the games and ask questions in post-game pressers, as well as produce podcasts, record stand-ups on the court, and interact with national and regional media members.”
The students were scheduled to be on-site for the duration of the five-day event, but on March 12, following the first two days of the basketball competition, the ACC joined the growing number of collegiate and professional sports organizations sidelining their athletic activities. Florida State, the conference regular season champion, was declared the winner of the tournament’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament just minutes prior to their tipoff against Clemson.
“It was absolutely mind-boggling,” said Liam Sment, a senior sports media and analytics major, who is serving as the graphics and photography director for 3304 Sports. “I never expected to be at center of the sports world as it was falling down around itself and to be one of a couple hundred people there covering it.”
It was the type of moment the students working with 3304 Sports had been preparing for all year.
ONCE IN A LIFETIME: Virginia Tech students witnessed history when the ACC tournament was canceled. (Liam Sment)
Launched in March of 2019, 3304 Sports is a student-led extension of the sports media and analytics major, which is a part of the Department of Communications housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. The media platform provides students with the opportunity to hone their journalism skills in a real-world environment by working with the Virginia Tech Athletics Department to cover NCAA Division I events.
“We’re just really grateful to have them work with us,” said Cunningham, editor-in-chief for 3304 Sports. “Ten years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to do this.”
Roth, the former long-time, legendary Voice of the Hokies, said the unexpected circumstances actually provided the students with an excellent, real-world learning opportunity.
“Basically, they went from covering games to covering an unprecedented national news story,” Roth said. “That’s where their journalism training kicked in, and they were terrific. We actually have an assignment in the Sports Journalism class called, ‘You’re covering a game and a news story breaks out,’ and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.”
For Sment, the experience meant hustling to different positions in the arena, including climbing into the stands, to ensure that he got the best visuals as the news broke.
“I just snapped into work mode,” he said. “One of the best photos I got was when [ACC Commissioner John] Swofford came out onto the court. He handed the trophy to FSU and there’s not a single player smiling. It was such a weird and unexpected scenario.”
As a broadcaster, Cunningham said he pulled from the many lessons he’d learned throughout the major, including the value of being right about information over being the first to deliver it.
He believes that the experience will continue to affect how he approaches his craft and life in general.
“It’s just not taking anything for granted and soaking up every moment,” Cunningham said. “I’m going to make sure that I’m making the most of my time here.” TW