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C O M M E N T A R Y
T A D    S T R Y K E R
May 29, 2009

The age of high-definition video has arrived at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. It's good news that the University of Nebraska football program won't be left behind in the technology race. But let's not go overboard.

A May 19 Omaha World-Herald story summarized the $4 million video upgrade project, including the upcoming installation of two more 21-by-24-foot video boards at the northeast and northwest corners of the old ballyard, to match the two boards already in the southeast and southwest corners. In addition, NU will install ribbon boards along the facades of the upper decks in the east and west stadiums.

In addition, all video signals will be upgraded to high-definition, which means that when you go to a Husker game, you'll be surrounded by HDTV video.

The upgrade will definitely make a big impact. The new Yankee Stadium's most-commented-upon feature (apart from its ridiculously overpriced box seats) is its huge HD video board. So this is nothing but good news, right? Well, probably. Maybe. Hopefully.

I should quit hedging and just say it straight out. The ribbon boards have got me nervous. They have the potential for being either good, bad or ugly.

Maybe I'm just overreacting, but I can't deny that I'm a little afraid that the NU athletic department is about to transform Memorial Stadium from a proud, traditional college football atmosphere to the blinking, flashing neon hell of a video game gallery – or a major league baseball park.

Neither a video game gallery nor the look and feel of a 2009 baseball stadium would be an appropriate setting for tradition-rich Nebraska Cornhusker football. In fact, a flashing electronic outfield fence is not appropriate even for Kansas City Royals baseball, an organization with a relatively small amount of tradition, but if you go to Kauffman Stadium, you'll see one.

Let's go back to the beginning of the in-stadium video era in college football. In 1994, Memorial Stadium became the first college football venue in the nation to have video boards installed. At the same time, NU got rid of its World War II-era loudspeakers and installed a modern stereo sound system, which (despite several bugs that had to be worked out) was a huge improvement. Since then, NU has upgraded its video boards several times.

That brings us to the “good” of video. The Tunnel Walk was born. For better or worse, it has become NU's most visible football tradition. The HuskerVision staff has thus far shown good taste and judgment, and the Tunnel Walk videos have generally been well-done. One of the best features HuskerVision ever produced was the “I play for Nebraska” pregame footage with Bo Ruud, Zac Taylor and several of their 2006 Husker teammates. That theme was simple and straightforward, and it hit Husker fans right in the gut. Let's hope for more of the same in 2009.

HuskerVision is at its best when used to hammer home the proud history of Husker football as, for instance, the 1997 Tunnel Walk video did, with its short bursts of memorable Husker footage. We have come to depend upon the instant replays all game long, and those will continue. There will be the inevitable promotional videos of other Husker events. These are all good, or at least understandable.

But with good comes evil. As a traditionalist, let me say right up front that I'm conflicted about the use of audio-video systems. Some of the results can be very irritating. I'm talking about cutesy games, glitzy music videos and the looping of pre-programmed announcements or what I will refer to as “video cheerleading.” For example, I never understood the usefulness of the term, “RED SEA” on the big north scoreboard, and it seems to me rather contrived to flash the word “NOISE” to ramp up the decibel count in the stadium. The Huskers on the field can raise their arms to exhort the crowd and accomplish the same thing much more efficiently.

Can someone promise me that NU will never produce the audio-video equivalent of those cheesy Nittany Lion “screams” and “roars” that are played at Beaver Stadium whenever Penn State gets a first down or accomplishes some other commonplace feat?

It's inevitable that corporate logos will continue to show up in more places around the stadium, although I hope it's kept to a minimum. I am conditioned to expect the “Valentino's Instant Replay,” and it doesn't really bother me that much anymore.

It's the ribbon boards that frankly have me concerned. I probably wouldn't even have bothered to write this column if it weren't for them. I know just how overbearing they can be. I've seen them flashing like a multi-colored phosphorescent nightmare at Coors Field. Some scoreboards are like a beautiful woman, and others are like that woman's ugly cousin who tries to compensate by wearing trashy, revealing outfits and way, way too much makeup. Get the picture?

I like the idea of showing scores and statistics from other games on those ribbon boards, or expanded stats from the Husker game, but I vote against the use of cascading Coca-Cola or McDonald's advertising. Trust me, at night it looks like a plutonium-enriched riverbed, which wouldn't be a bad backdrop for a Bon Jovi concert, but it's not the right feel for Nebraska football.

The World-Herald story quotes Kirk Hartman, HuskerVision's creative director, and Shot Kleen, the director of technology for the athletic department, and I was a little scared by what they had to say. For instance, Hartman said, the ribbon boards “could provide the means for other things — like stretching a player's eyes across them, possibly as a form of intimidation.” Kleen liked the idea of “having digital characters do laps around all the stadium screens.”

“The possibilities are endless,” Kleen said. “What we can do is really only limited by our creativity.”

And, I trust, by good judgment. So can we nix the “laps around the stadium screens” idea right now? The Husker football program doesn't need such gimmicks.

Lincoln is not the place for the video equivalent of tossing beach balls around the stadium. That's for bored fans in Southern California. NU doesn't need glitz in its video presentations any more than it needs plaid football pants or psychedelic red-and-pink tie-dyed end zones. That's for second- and third-rate programs.

Can we always keep in mind that this is Memorial Stadium, not Chuck E. Cheese's? I've had enough of the video shell games and the halftime races between Mountain Dew and Pepsi. That sort of thing is for Triple-A baseball teams that desperately need 8-year-old kids and their families to fill empty seats. That's not currently a problem at 10th and Vine.

The use of video should never distract fans from the game and thereby make Lincoln an easier place for opposing teams to visit.

Memorial Stadium should maintain a classic college football atmosphere, and its traditions should not be overwhelmed by the audio/video monster. For example, the Nebraska band should always be pre-eminent over piped-in rock and rap music. It's 10 times better let the NU band play “Also Sprach Zarathustra” just before the opening kickoff than to use “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones.

Good: Short interviews with former Husker greats. Bad: More than one dozen bone-crushing hits compiled from several games and set to rock music. Good: Nebraska military personnel giving a “Go Huskers” message from overseas. Ugly: repeating the same devastating hit over and over again. It loses its impact after two repetitions.

Good: Clips of past NU victories over today's opponent. Bad: using a clip of the goofy-looking, bow-tie wearing “Real Nebraska” recruiter dude during a fourth-quarter timeout of a close game.

HDTV resolution on the video boards in Memorial Stadium? I'm all for it. But let's not take leave of our senses in the way we use it.

 

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com. | Archive

 
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