On November 28, 2011, Oakland University’s men’s basketball team beat the favored team from the University of Tennessee at home. It was a monumental moment for Oakland Athletics but it also marked a unique change in WXOU’s broadcasting location. They went from their usual court side location to the top level of the O’rena and have not been allowed back since.
Athletic Director Tracy Huth said the award-winning Michigan Association of Broadcasters college radio station of the year was moved because of space constraints.
“In essence, we have a very small location … the game operations table,” Huth said. “As our program has grown and there’s been more need to accommodate various entities on that table, we’ve had to do things. It’s not just a matter of WXOU not being on that table.”
The move came as a surprise to the current WXOU General Manager Sean Varicalli because of an obscured view of a corner of the court at the new location.
“There was no reason given for a long time,” Varicalli said. “We stayed there all year, all season. I called a women’s game from up there (last year) and it was incredibly difficult to do. You cannot see, you cannot hear anything. There’s no line of vision in the corners. Small print names? Can’t see it.”
According to Huth and Assistant Athletic Director Scott MacDonald, communication problems were never addressed by WXOU.
“Nobody was blindsided,” MacDonald said. “I met with WXOU several times, sat down with Matt Pocket and told him we could possibly put (them) down there for women’s basketball, but for consistent basis, we put him at center court, where we put our video people (the camera well), and we paid to have a phone line installed.”
Matt Pocket, sports director for WXOU, who won sports ‘play-by-play’ broadcaster of the year when he was a freshman, has had trouble understanding the explanation for the move.
“I’m fine with consistency, I just want good consistency, not bad consistency,” Pocket said. “Visiting media has two seats reserved on their side but we’re up top. We have got a lot of parent feedback … I’ve had a lot of people asking me ‘why are you up there? Your spot is empty.’ It’s also tough to interact with fans.”
According to Varacalli, communication between WXOU and the Athletics department has been almost nonexistent.
“As the manager of this station, as the person who’s in charge and responsible for this station and someone who needs to know everything that has to do with this situation, I have not been notified one time by Athletics or administrators, not about anything. I have one email from Scott MacDonald,” Varacalli said. “(The email said)‘WXOU will remain at the same spot as last year for consistency purposes.’”
Unity within SAFAC
Newly elected OUSC President Samantha Wolf was quick to rally support for WXOU, even gathering student organization leaders to discuss the topic in person.
“If it wasn’t for Sam (Wolf) and her contact with administration, I would know nothing,” Varacalli said.
Wolf said the directly funded organizations — The Oakland Post, Student Programs Board, Student Video Productions, Student Activities Funding Board and WXOU radio — met in June to discuss the issue. She said all the organizations are working together to solve it.
She used the phrase ‘press row’ when referring to court side locations and was adamant in her assertion that student media should have those spots.
“As a university, our number one goal is to be teaching these students to help them get a career,” Wolf said. “When athletics has the opportunity to make it (athletic activities) educational, they should. That should be their number one priority.”
“It is no longer called “Press Row” because it’s only for administrative purposes as I was informed,” she added. “It’s ridiculous. If you don’t want to call it Press Row, why do you have the press sitting there? The only one that isn’t is WXOU. “
She mentioned that The Oakland Post sits on the table as press.
“I fully believe they should be there, but WXOU broadcasts the entire game where The Post can write from a student spot anywhere. It’s not appropriate that The Post is (allowed court side) and WXOU isn’t.”
New faces move to press row, none of which are WXOU
In addition to The Post retaining their court side location, other media outlets have been added for the upcoming year.
According to the quarterly Oakland University magazine, Detroit Tiger’s sportscaster Mario Impemba, who won Sportscaster of the year last year, will be calling men’s basketball games at OU this season.
In the article, Huth is quoted saying, “My first reaction was that of relief that we found someone to announce our games.” Huth went on to say, “with our fans, it helps us build a new relationship with a voice they’re comfortable with.”
The Athletics Department’s stance
According to MacDonald, Impemba isn’t the only addition to the Athletics Department’s broadcasting team.
“The web stream is going to change this year,” MacDonald said. “Occasionally, we would pick up their (WXOU) calls in the game, but we will no longer be doing that. We have our own person who’s going to be calling the games for our video. He worked for WXOU years ago, Neal Ruhl.”
The Athletics department’s practice of using WXOU’s radio feed is a point of contention for Varicalli.
“Athletics used our feed because that’s the only feed they had,” he said. “They subcontracted our feed out … we found out a couple years ago. They make money on their video subscription … without audio, that subscription is useless. There’s not even a notification, they just rip it. It says OUGrizzlies.com, not WXOU radio. There’s no accreditation at all and we don’t get a percentage of that.”
The future broadcasting location for WXOU at men’s basketball games is in flux. According to Huth, there is a meeting between the leaders of the student organizations, Dean of Students McIntosh and himself scheduled for later this week.
“We have to move the emotion off of the table and look at the facts and say ‘What’s best?’” McIntosh said. “Matt and some of the other guys have had a lot of success in that role. Location is not a measure of how good they are. To me, Matt has the talent to broadcast a game from the roof and do an excellent job. He’s that good. You don’t want to make this issue something it’s not. It’s an issue of growth. Unfortunately, everyone can’t be accommodated the way they have been in past years.”
While all parties involved agreed the issue is one of communication, MacDonald and McIntosh are hopeful about WXOU’s ability to be successful in their new location and for the aforementioned meeting to yield positive results.
“There’s no worry because they won the award sitting where they did last year,” MacDonald said.
Huth is asking for everyone to come to an agreement so they can move forward.
“We don’t want to have to address this again,” Huth said. “We’re doing the best we can to accommodate. I consider the relationship with the students to be very positive. I don’t see this as a negative. We’re trying to get them the best location we can. I think we’re trying to do everything we can to help advance these students if they want a career in broadcasting.”
WXOU is asking for two seats and a place to place their 2-foot board for their broadcasts.
“That’s such a small request and with the amount that students help out, how could you not be willing to compromise and work together to make it beneficial to both sides — athletics and students,” Wolf said.
According to Wolf, the attendance of all Oakland sporting events has greatly increased due to the efforts of WXOU and other student organizations in the last four years.
“I’m a broadcaster, I just want to show up and do my damn job,” Pocket said. “I love my job more than anything. The time that I’ve spent here has taken me to what I feel is a pretty good college broadcaster. I want to do this for the rest of my life. That’s my number one goal. I just want to show up and help Oakland University be whatever they want to be.”
Staff Reporter Mark McMillan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ markamcmillan