Bill Roth brings Virginia Tech’s new sports media and analytics concentration into play
January 17, 2018
During a classroom presentation last spring, a Virginia Tech student described his favorite team — the Philadelphia Eagles — as the greatest in the National Football League. He then paused, almost defiantly, for dramatic effect.
“Five points to anyone who boos,” the professor, Bill Roth, called out impishly. As the students complied, Roth added, “Ten points to anyone who throws anything!”
Everyone laughed; nothing was tossed.
The easy ribbing in Roth’s Introduction to Sports Media belied the intensity of the experience for students. The course is just one of a growing number offered as part of the Department of Communication’s concentration in sports media and analytics, an option now available to multimedia journalism majors.
When Roth, a professor of practice, joined the department in the fall of 2016 to help develop the concentration, he brought with him several decades of sports reporting.
For 27 of those years, Roth provided radio play-by-play for Virginia Tech football and men’s basketball. During that time, he was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, and the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association named him the state’s Sportscaster of the Year an unprecedented 11 times.
Roth’s long experience with men’s basketball inspired him to engage his introductory sports media class in an experiment he hopes will be an annual tradition: predicting the Final Four during the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s March Madness tournament.
“We want Virginia Tech to become the Quinnipiac of the Final Four,” said Roth, referring to Quinnipiac University’s reputation as a powerhouse in U.S. presidential election polling. “I had the students research the numbers and run various models for bracketing the tournament. We then pooled our projections for the Final Four.”
In the spring of 2017, all four of the class picks made it to the second round. Three made it to the Sweet 16; one not only made it to the Final Four, but also won the championship.
In addition to the introductory course, Roth teaches broadcasting performance, which takes advantage of the fully digitalized broadcast studio, information center, and media lab of the department’s Multimedia Center, housed in the Moss Arts Center.
“This is where we turn on the lights, put the students in front of the cameras, and let them try to pronounce Andrew Motuapuaka’s name,” Roth said, referring to a Virginia Beach senior who is also a Virginia Tech linebacker. “Of course, as a multimedia journalism major, Andrew may take the class, which would give him an unfair advantage in that particular assignment!”
This spring, for the first time, Roth will also offer a class on play-by-play broadcasting.
“Whether we’re covering a game, reporting from the field, or writing a column,” he said, “we’re all in the storytelling business.”
More than 6,000 Virginia Tech graduates hold degrees from the university’s award-winning Department of Communication, which offers majors in multimedia journalism, public relations, and communication studies.
“Our multimedia journalism program has long been sought after, and Bill continues to expand its popularity,” said Robert Denton, head of the department. “We’re lucky to have his expertise and enthusiasm as he helps mentor the next generation of sports communicators.”
The sports media and analytics concentration is just one of several relatively new undergraduate options in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, which offers 30 majors and nearly 60 minors. The School of Performing Arts has added cinema as a major, and those majoring in music can opt for creative technologies in music. The Department of History now offers a minor in war and society, while the Department of Political Science has added a minor in global engagement and a political theory track for students majoring in political science.
Notable Department of Communication alumni in broadcasting at the national and international levels include Hoda Kotb ’86, recently named co-host of the Today Show (pictured above with Virginia Tech students); Atia Abawi ’03, a foreign correspondent based in the Middle East who has reported for CNN and NBC News; Pierre Thomas ’84, the senior justice correspondent for ABC News; and Molly Line ’99, a Fox News correspondent. Another graduate of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences — Brian Sullivan ’93, who holds a degree in political science — is a news anchor at CNBC.