March 22, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) ESPN's experiment of broadcasting six women's NCAA Tournament games remotely went off without a hitch.

It's too soon to say if the network will do more tourney games that way in the future.

''Would we do it again next year? We don't know yet. We will do a full evaluation after the tournament,'' said Mark Gross, ESPN's senior vice president for production and remote events. ''Should we continue? Can we do it better?''

The commentators, directors and producers were not on site for the first- and second-round games hosted by Maryland and Mississippi State on Friday through Monday. Instead, the broadcasts were produced from studios in Charlotte, North Carolina, or Orlando, Florida.

Remote productions have long been used for international events, including for parts of the World Cup on ESPN and the Olympics on NBC. ESPN and other networks have been employing them more for domestic events in recent years such as Major League Soccer, WNBA, tennis, college football and X Games as technology improved.

The remote broadcasts save money from travel costs and production trucks.

The Pac-12 Network broadcast 100 women's basketball games this season and did nearly half of them with production in its San Francisco studios. The conference saved up to $10,000 a game broadcasting that way. But for all but six of them, the announcers were on site, unlike ESPN's setup for the tournament.

''It does cost more when the talent is on site,'' Gross said. ''Whether it's an extra camera or two for the talent, extra audio packages for the talent, a more robust audio setup. If they needed to expand upon the truck that's in the parking lot. Everything gets amped up a little bit more.''

Gross wasn't sure exactly how much ESPN saved, and the network declined to release figures. Gross said ESPN would put some of the money back into the women's Final Four, using the virtual 3-point line that ESPN started implementing on its NBA broadcasts.

''We are over-the-top committed to women's basketball from the first tip to the last game in Indianapolis,'' he said. ''By no means should anyone see it as we're treating it as second rate or don't respect the game. We love women's basketball and are committed long haul to making women's basketball as good a product as we can make it.''

Brooke Weisbrod, who called three of the games remotely from ESPN's studios in Charlotte, has done broadcasts that way before for both ESPN and the Big Ten. So doing an NCAA Tournament game remotely wasn't too difficult.

''You do everything that you'd normally go through. Put the headsets on, go through the normal checks,'' she said. ''Because we're standing up calling the game instead of sitting behind a table, I felt more energetic. The sound and environment is different than when you're at a game, but it's pretty easy to fall right into.

''You're in a studio room and have access to all different types of looks and takes. You have a stats person and the same trends you do when you're at the game. You actually have a better view because if I'm sitting at an arena, sometimes you can't see the action if the coach or the ref is standing in front.''

Plus she went to work in a T-shirt and jeans since she knew she wouldn't be on camera.

The one area that the remote broadcasts can struggle with is when an injury or a controversial call occurs. With announcers on site, sports information directors or officials always come over to explain what is going on. It's nearly impossible to do that if they aren't there.

At the end of the Mississippi State-Michigan State game, the officials went to the monitor to review a play. Moments earlier, a Mississippi State player appeared to step out of bounds with the ball.

Analyst LaChina Robinson, who was doing the game remotely from the Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, knew the officials weren't looking at that play because it wasn't reviewable, as no call had been made. They were just checking to see how much time, if any, was left on the clock.

''We are fortunate to have great partners with the NCAA and the college leagues and NBA and MLS,'' Gross said. ''We're up front with them and promise it won't impact the production. If it does, we've got to back off and rethink how we're doing this.''

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