Paul Fritschner was a few minutes late.
He was on his way to the Cintas Center for the final day of the Xavier Invitational Friday when he remembered forgetting to cut the labels off his new suit.
It was just after 11 a.m. when Fritschner, a 2019 Xavier graduate, compiled the official statistics for a midday game between Xavier and Toledo. After that, he moved to another seat and worked for 3 p.m. on the Oakland-Bradley game that was streamed on FloSports, which is exactly what he had been doing for the past two days.
As Fritschner drove into the parking lot of the Cintas Center, he saw a text from Mike Schmaltz, his broadcast partner for the past five years, who was supposed to act as timeout coordinator for Xavier-Toledo and who has worked for Xavier’s basketball programs for women for decades.
“He said the show was canceled,” said Fritschner. “I think … what does that mean? You just won’t be on TV? That won’t happen.”
When Fritschner entered, he saw the Fox Sports truck parked outside at the loading dock being packed and dismantled. Later that hour, Xavier and Fox announced that the show had been canceled due to “COVID-19 issues” in the production teams.
Fritschner wondered what would happen.
Then he thought, “This is Xavier Basketball … they don’t want a game like this off on TV. They’re going to find out.”
Xavier has found something out, and that’s why it’s a day Fritschner and Schmaltz will never forget.
“We are ready”
Brian Hicks is Xavier’s Associate Athletic Director, External Relations.
He got the first call at 10:53 a.m.
That call was from Mike Coyne, the Big East Conference’s assistant commissioner for men’s basketball operations, and he relayed the news that Fox Sports pulled the plug on the show.
First they discussed instant playback. Without a broadcast, Xavier would have to make sure officers have a camera feed in case they need to review a piece.
Three minutes later, Hicks called Chris Schaaf, Xavier’s Senior Associate Technical Director, to work out a plan for immediate playback. Then Hicks briefed Greg Christopher, Xavier’s director of athletics, on what was happening.
From there, Hicks connected with other members of Xavier’s athletic leadership team such as Mario Mercurio, Associate Athletic Director for Basketball Administration, and Tom Eiser, Associate Athletic Director for Communications.
They started working on a press release to let fans know that the game would not be televised.
At 11:10 a.m., Hicks received confirmation that the three robotic cameras mounted in the Cintas Center would work for immediate playback.
Then they discussed their next step. In the absence of a broadcast, they wondered how they could find ways to connect fans to the game other than just referring them to the Byron Larkin and Joe Sunderman radio show.
It was around this time that Xavier began to wonder if he could get his own broadcast.
“At the time, not knowing about the rights agreement with Fox, I asked Tom Eiser to contact Rick Gentile (Senior Associate Commissioner on Broadcasting with the Great East). I knew we needed a clearing of our rights,” said Hicks.
Eiser made that call at 11:26 am and Gentile informed him that Xavier has permission to do live look-ins of the game when Fox is not on the air.
At the same time, Schaaf and Dave Overbeck, Xavier’s technical director, were asked what Xavier could do about a possible broadcast.
“And we just looked at each other, ran through some scenarios in our heads very quickly and we thought we could broadcast them,” said Schaaf. “Because we knew we already had everything in place, it’s just a matter of getting things around and working.”
As soon as that happened, Eiser called Gentile back and said to him, “Our people are telling me we can do a live stream. We are already set up on the technical side of the FloSports shows and I just want to make sure we are okay with that are.” Make a live stream of the entire game. ”
When Fox decided not to broadcast, television rights shifted back to the Big East and Gentile gave Xavier permission to broadcast.
“That might seem like a minor matter, but the fact that Rick could confirm that and literally do it on the spot … because if it had taken him 20 minutes or 30 minutes to make a few calls, it might not have been us able to do it, “said Eiser.
About 25 minutes before the start, Xavier’s team mobilized. Schaaf and Overbeck started working on the technical side and made sure that everything was up to date. Greg Lautzenheiser, Xavier’s Director of Athletic Communications, prepared GoXavier.com and set up the stream code. He then informed Schmaltz and Fritschner that they were ready.
An unforgettable premiere
Schmaltz and Fritschner sat in the broadcast booth and waited. They have sat together in many broadcast booths over the years, but that was different. Neither of them had ever called a Xavier men’s basketball game before.
“I look at Mike, and that goes back to what I say about his underestimation. He immediately let me do the play-by-play for the game, which is huge in the sense of a broadcast,” said Fritschner. “That’s exactly the guy Mike is.”
Schmaltz grew up playing Xavier games at the Schmidt Fieldhouse, and as much as he would have loved to have played it piece by piece, his voice filled with joy when he remembers this moment: “I will not deny that you are broadcasting Christmas … Paul was so excited it was great to see. ”
In less than 10 minutes until the tip, Fritschner said: “Dave Overbeck comes up to us and says: ‘Chris Schaaf will be your producer, we will do it. You may not hear him in your ear I don’t know when you live, maybe you know you don’t know when we advertise or display, but we will. ‘””
Fritschner is from Northern Virginia, but his mother’s family is from Greater Cincinnati. Growing up, Fritschner’s grandfather, a Xavier graduate, had two men’s basketball season tickets.
“During the winter break all holidays were spent here, so I came here during the winter break and my father and I used these two tickets and we always got a third,” said Fritschner. “Cintas was always very nice because my uncle had Down syndrome and we sat in the disabled seats, so it was really cool for me … to be able to do my first Xavier game which I sat on a couple of times sits over there where I grew up watching games. ”
The first live streaming game in Xavier men’s basketball history was unexpected.
“You never expect something like that,” said Schaaf. “When was the last time a Xavier game wasn’t on TV?”
In less than 45 minutes, all the little things that had to happen happened.
“We have a lot of people who work really, really hard behind the scenes,” said Hicks. “They are never the ones who want to be in the spotlight and so rare.”
Schmaltz said, “It was cool for the other guys like Ryan McGaha (one of Xavier’s digital producers) and the guys out there building cables and raining, those guys were there too and they had to be.” part of it and help you put it together. The whole system was in place and it went really well together. ”
According to Xavier, the stream had more than 16,000 live viewers.
“Easily a record for us,” said Hicks.
Xavier was lucky for a number of reasons. Over the past two years, Xavier’s has made a number of technological investments and upgrades at the Cintas Center that have allowed this to work seamlessly right from the Xavier control room. They were also lucky enough to have Schmaltz and Fritschner in the building.
“Anyone who plays Xavier sports other than men’s basketball knows Paul and Mike because they streams for us for women’s basketball, volleyball, baseball, and men’s and women’s football,” said Eiser. “We are very lucky. Everyone who has seen you and your work is not even a bit surprised that you made a home run with your show.”
Xavier was the only school Fritschner applied to. He knows the date of the first game he ever played at Xavier. And like pretty much every game he plays for Xavier, Schmaltz was at his side.
“Mike has influenced my career the most. I did my very first show with him on April 20, 2016,” said Fritschner. “We played a Xavier baseball game against Indiana together and I didn’t really know him.”
Schmaltz said: “He’s really the only student I know who really wanted to do something like this.”
Fritschner kept the scorebook from this first game with Schmaltz.
“I had him sign my first baseball scorebook from my freshman year with Xavier,” said Fritschner. “I signed his score sheet after the game in Toledo.
“I will remember it forever.”