Over the years of TDG’s existence, we have occasionally taken the time to profile Gopher athletes. An opportunity to spotlight an athlete and get to know the athletes beyond their field of competition. It started with Aaron Fortunato, a successful men’s gymnast who is now a structural engineer in the Twin Cities. I was also fortunate enough to get an opportunity to interview Marqueis Gray, the former Gopher quarterback who managed to play in 61 NFL games as a tight end.
Well over the past couple of years, there is a Gopher student-athlete who has been making a name for herself on multiple competitive surfaces. If you are unfamiliar, I’d like to introduce you to Emma Carpenter.
Perhaps you have been to any number of Gopher sporting events and Carpenter sang the national anthem for you. Perhaps you have tuned in to watch volleyball or women’s basketball to hear Carpenter doing the play-by-play over the last two seasons. Or even if you bought a subscription to B1G+ and caught Carpenter doing play-by-play for the men’s basketball team this fall. Maybe you have been part of her massive social media following or have come across her interviewing huge golf stars on her golf-centric podcast.
The point is, that Emma Carpenter is seemingly everywhere. This Gopher, 5th year senior is a member of the women’s golf team at the U, is a journalism major and for her final year of eligibility is completing a graduate degree in marketing at Carlson. I was able to chat with Carpenter to hear how she got to where she is and where she wants to go, following her time at the U.
So how does a well-rounded athlete and performer from Illinois end up at the University of Minnesota? Well, it started with golf. Carpenter came to the game a little later in life, picking up the game around age 12. But clearly had a talent. The Gophers, enamored with her potential, were one of the first programs to offer her before other Big Ten programs eventually followed. But in spite of the climate, she committed the summer after her sophomore year of high school.
Golf is how Carpenter became a Gopher, but this story is about more than just an athlete’s golf journey.
“Right after high school, my dad sat me down and said, ‘What do you want to do for your job?’ It was actually his idea but he said, ‘Emma, with how outgoing you are, how much you love to talk, how much you love to write, and you're an athlete and you’ve always been a great performer. I really think that all those things combined that sports broadcasting would be a good avenue for you.”
In the fall of 2019, she arrived on campus with a focus on figuring out how good she could be at golf. Then spring 2020 hit...making that spring season and the following fall season very weird. Losing those competitive seasons is when she knew that she would be taking advantage of the opportunity to take a 5th year.
Remember how weird those times were?
“Ironically we were just finishing up with a tournament when it happened. I had a really good tournament. In like the third round, I made 7 birdies, played really well and then like 2 days later our season got canceled.”
“The toughest thing about Covid was just the unknowns of when we were going to get to come back and what was that going to look like. Being a college student was not easy and being an athlete in Covid was a huge sacrifice. It completely affected any social life.”
The fall 2020 season was also canceled and eventually, golf resumed in the spring of 2021. But it resumed with all of the social distancing and masking and other precautions that feel like a distant memory.
Fast forward to the fall of 2021 with the years in between being filled with golf and classes and being a college student. But at this point, things really started to pick up for Carpenter.
She remembers sitting in a journalism class, looking around at her peers, feeling a little bit like, “What have I done?” With other students writing for the Daily and accomplishing a lot, a little bit of imposter syndrome was there for her.
But it all started to happen quickly for Carpenter. The timing of NIL and being approached to do a podcast were significant.
“Once NIL changed, I would say that it completely changed my life. Not even from a monetary standpoint but just because of the platform that it gave me to grow my personal brand.”
Fans most often associate NIL with money that is essentially directly paid to athletes within the revenue sports of football and basketball. But the intent of NIL is to give athletes in all collegiate sports the opportunity to use their platform, create a brand and pursue opportunities to not only make money but to pursue a career before they graduate. And Carpenter has maximized this opportunity.
At first, she was approached by an agent for an unrelated opportunity and it was this agent who mentioned a podcast with The Golf Channel’s, Gary Williams and Jay Bilas of ESPN. They were interested in bringing on a female perspective and potentially covering more college golf, the agent asked Carpenter if she’d be interested in hosting a segment on the podcast.
“YES!” was the emphatic response and she is now a regular contributor on the 5 Clubs Podcast.
In the meantime, she also started working for Gopher Digital Productions. This is where she was able to do some sideline reporting for softball, she started singing the national anthem at various Gopher sporting events and it eventually led to play-by-play opportunities.
In the fall of 2022 she was fortunate enough to do play-by-play for Gopher volleyball and fell in love with it. She’s since had the opportunity to do play-by-play for Gopher women’s basketball and Gopher men’s basketball on B1G+ and even was doing volleyball during the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament for ESPN+.
First time calling play-by-play for men’s D1 Big Ten hoops ✅ https://t.co/wcPpu6xnt2— Emma Carpenter (@emmmacarpenter) November 3, 2023
The opportunity to put those broadcast opportunities on tape led to more than she imagined. At the end of last spring, while competing in the Big Ten Championships, she received a message from her manager at Gopher Digital Productions to tell Carpenter about an opportunity to submit her name for the prestigious Lisa Byington Award from BTN. Unfortunately, she was still competing for the Gophers that weekend and the deadline was looming, in fact, it took a little effort to get the deadline extended to Monday. So after competing Friday, Saturday, Sunday and arriving home late Sunday evening, she spent all night creating a demo reel to submit.
Two months later she gets an email from BTN to set up a final Zoom call for the finalists. The Zoom call was not for finalists, Lisa Byington joined the call to congratulate Carpenter for winning the 2023 Lisa Byington Award.
This award is a major deal and gives Carpenter a significant boost toward her desired career. After finishing up her journalism degree and now working on her marketing graduate studies at Carlson, she’s poised to pursue that career. The Lisa Byington award looks fantastic on a resume, she’s been able to utilize Byington as a mentor and she’s been fortunate to work a number of games already. So what specifically does she want to pursue?
Carpenter loves play-by-play and wants to chase that over other broadcast roles. A role that is even more male-dominated in an already male-dominated industry. It has its challenges, of course, and often spends 20+ hours preparing for a game. As she pointed out to me, it is much more than just casually describing what we all see on the court. The play-by-play person has to know every player on both teams, where are they from, how they have been playing lately, if there are any off-the-court things to know about, etc. A challenge accepted and preferred by Carpenter.
Clearly, this is a Gopher student-athlete who will finish out her collegiate career and move on to bigger and better things. With a lot of work already put in, and some fantastic opportunities that she has seized in her time on campuses, Carpenter is poised to take off in the coming months and years. She will finish out her spring season of golf, complete her master's degree and be ready to take on the world.
This is an elite example of what the platform of collegiate athletics, combined with the advent of new NIL rules can do for student-athletes like Carpenter. Thrilled to know she’s a Gopher and look forward to seeing her thrive in the broadcast world down the road.