On the Ball at ESPN

Photo of Aaron Katzman
Courtesy Aaron Katzman
Aaron Katzman ’05 (center)

Sometimes, being on the sidelines is the best way to stay in the game.

As a two-time Emmy Award-winning producer on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” Aaron Katzman ’05 has found his career sweet spot. The kid from Belleville, Illinois, never imagined that his sports idols would become his colleagues or that he would get paid to attend the world’s most coveted sports events.

Katzman wasn’t entirely sure of his career goals when he arrived at Brandeis — following in the footsteps of his father, Steve Katzman ’69, P’05 — but he soon proved to be a natural at sports broadcasting and journalism. He hosted and produced a midnight sports talk show with his friends on WBRS, called Judges basketball games and played on the Brandeis golf team under Coach Bill Shipman. Off-campus, he called games for the Cape Cod Baseball League, served as a “runner” for Fox Sports and spent a summer interning with a local news station back home.

As graduation approached, Katzman visited the Hiatt Career Center, which connected him with Jason Sobel ’97, an ESPN senior golf writer at the time. “He had never met me,” says Katzman, “and he didn’t need to reply, but he did.”

Sobel put him in touch with ESPN hiring managers, who invited him in for an interview. “I figured at least I would get a tour of ESPN,” Katzman says. The tour, as it turned out, was of his new office: Katzman was hired as a production assistant.

During his first days on the job, Katzman was star-struck.

“I was walking past NFL and NBA superstars I grew up idolizing.” Soon he was cutting highlights for “SportsCenter,” working late nights and “doing whatever was asked,” he says.The first event Katzman helped produce was an otherworldly experience for the lifelong golf fan: the 2008 U.S. Open Golf Championship at Torrey Pines. He used his vanishing spare time to obtain a JD with a focus on sports law from Quinnipiac University School of Law.

These days, Katzman works as a football and basketball producer on “College GameDay,” making sure each show goes smoothly. The chaotic nature of live TV is what he enjoys most. “You prepare for a show, but sometimes you have to adjust on the fly,” he says. “It’s never the same day twice.”

The hardest part was learning to think of the hosts as peers. “At first, it was a little nerve-racking telling [longtime sports analyst] Jay Bilas to stop talking so we can go to commercial,” he says.

No longer intimidated by working alongside sports celebrities, Katzman remains in awe of his job’s perks: meeting golf legend Jack Nicklaus, bringing his brother Daniel ’08 to the NCAA Final Four, playing at St. Andrews after the Masters.

“If someone had told me that one day this would be my job, I would’ve laughed at them,” he says.

— Brian Klotz