Aaron Housenga was at his apartment when he heard the news that the Big Ten postponed football.
He looked down at his phone and saw a dozen notifications from his friends and news apps, breaking the news that had been stirring days before. He was first shocked, then mad, then sad, like many Husker players and fans were that day.
However, Housenga, a senior sports media and communication and broadcasting major and student employee at HuskerVision, had another realization that hurt even more: HuskerVision was probably done too.
A couple minutes later, Housenga’s fear was realized when he got a message from one of the full-time employees at HuskerVision saying that a meeting was being called. On the Zoom meeting, Housenga was told that HuskerVision was shut down, news he hoped to avoid.
“They were like ‘Yeah, we can't do anything. You all can't come into the office until we know the COVID regulations. Stay safe, we’ll keep you updated.’”Housenga said. “We go off the football team’s schedule so when they're done, we’re done.”
HuskerVision is the production staff behind all the on-screen action for Nebraska athletics. According to its webpage, they are housed in the state-of-the-art Michael Grace Production Studio located in Memorial Stadium.
According to Kirk Hartman, Assistant Athletic Director for HuskerVision, the main goal of HuskerVision is to entertain the fans and promote student-athletes in a positive way. To do this, they run LED screens at venues and bring replay action and entertainment throughout Nebraska sporting events.
As essential as HuskerVision is to Nebraska athletics, it’s had to adapt without any sports action this fall, including football not being guaranteed earlier this semester.
Along with a full-time staff, there are normally about 35 to 50 students employed with HuskerVision throughout the year. However, the staff has been cut down to about half of that, because of both economic reasons and to keep everyone safe. There have been a couple full-time employees furloughed till the end of the semester, and one was let go permanently. Only the previously experienced students are able to work.
“These are difficult times for everything and we are adjusting as much as we can to this unusual year,” Hartman said. “Usually this time of year we have our new students coming in, we employ quite a few students, and they are training and learning but this year we just can't do that right now so we are relying on our veteran students to help run everything for this season’s competitions.”
Although Housenga is saddened by the loss of some full-timers, he has found opportunity in it since he and the other interns have had to step it up in their place.
“It obviously sucks to have a shortened staff, and you want to have those full timers there to mentor you and teach you things, but it's also kind of cool because we get more experience and opportunities to work some positions we didn't think we’d get experience with,” he said.
Despite a shortened staff, HuskerVision is still able to operate and be in the studio as usual, just with masks and social distancing protocols. In addition, the employees must follow Big Ten and Nebraska athletic department rules, such as having glass in between work spaces.
With the return of Nebraska football on Oct. 24, HuskerVision got back to work. Right now, it is working on bringing as much of the in-stadium experience as possible to the fans at home for the upcoming football season.
For the games, HuskerVision is planning on doing replay screens like normal in the stadium since there will be some parents and people in the stadium, and they still want to put on a show for them. However, the team is mainly focused on the livestream for the fans at home.
“We are trying to keep fans engaged as much as possible through this COVID time,” Hartman said. “Without fans, we are limited, but we are just trying to do as much as we can. The pre-game elements and most of the features that we do in the stadium we will try to incorporate in the livestream.”
In addition to a livestream, HuskerVison hopes to have some live stats that fans can look at on a second screen at home. They are also planning on putting in crowd sounds, have already added fan cutouts in the stands and will put out more social media content.
Even with a shortened staff, HuskerVision is determined to deliver a quality gameday experience. The students will help them do that.
“We realize that we have to really utilize our students to keep us going because it takes a lot of people to put on these productions,” Hartman said. “I am so thankful that we have a great journalism department that we can pick and choose from and we haven't been disappointed, I can tell you that.”
Despite the challenges and changes that HuskerVision has faced, Hartman's passion and commitment has not wavered as his students are his favorite part of the job.
“I just love working with the students and their enthusiasm,” Hart said. “It just spreads joy throughout my department. They come in wanting to learn and just having them around produces something unmatched, and it's just been a blessing to have students involved in HuskerVision.”
As for Housenga, the feeling is mutual, and he can't wait to have everyone back on staff.
“My favorite part about working here is the people and connections you make both with the staff and other interns,” said Housenga. “I am so glad football is back because everyone at HuskerVision has made it so much fun to go to work everyday and just hang out with them. That's what I love about my job — I forget that I'm working.”