After nearly 50 years as the radio voice of IU football and basketball, Don Fischer thought he had seen it all.
That certainly includes a less than capacity crowd at Memorial Stadium for a time or two.
Truth be told, for decades Fischer has seen the fans clear out during blowout wins and losses, retreating to their tailgate at halftime, never to be seen again.
But calling one of the most dramatic wins in the history of the IU football program with almost no fans in the stands?
That was different, even for the 74 year old veteran.
“Knowing that nobody was in the stands, that was surreal,” Fischer told The Daily Hoosier about calling the thrilling finish of Indiana’s 36-35 overtime win over Penn State.
Now in his 48th year calling IU football and basketball games, the moment was unlike anything he has seen.
But for Fischer, it was good to get back to work after a low key seven months that started with the sudden end to the college basketball season back in March.
Those that know Fischer personally know how he spends much of his time during the offseason.
And while he admits to not doing much during the pandemic, Fischer did have one of his passions as an outlet.
“Played a lot golf,” Fischer said. “Thank God the golf courses were open.”
With the golf season winding down in Indiana, late October was a great time to get back to work.
And Fischer’s game day experience for football was noticeably different from the moment he stepped into the car and started his commute down State Road 37.
In fact, the experience started out as a major positive.
“The one thing that I do like with no fans in stands — is no traffic,” Fischer said.
When he arrived at Memorial Stadium, perhaps a bit earlier and less frustrated than normal, once again, the scene was unfamiliar.
With social distancing enforced in the press box, “it’s no longer the buzzing facility that it normally is,” Fischer said
But perched high atop Memorial Stadium in the press box, Fischer is a bit removed from the fans for football. From his birds eye view he can almost trick himself into believing that nothing has changed once he gets to work.
“I get so engrossed normally in the game that I don’t recognize what the crowd is doing unless it is a major reaction to something that’s happening,” Fischer said.
“The fact that they pipe in crowd noise helps to make it not feel like that odd of a situation.”
Basketball could be completely different, however.
After nearly 50 years attached to the basketball program, Fischer has earned the right to have an entire row inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall named after him, at least informally.
In media circles, Fischer’s spot just a few rows above head coach Archie Miller’s right shoulder is colloquially referred to as the “Don Fischer row.”
Unlike football, for IU basketball games Fischer is right in the heart of the action.
And because of that and the indoor environment, the dynamics of calling a game with no fans could be completely different.
Imagine the sounds of an empty arena, with only the players, coaches, and Fischer’s boisterous call of the action. Imagine the voices of yelling players and coaches picked up on the radio broadcast, and Fischer’s voice reverberating throughout the hollow arena.
That is certainly something that Fischer has thought about, and he is happy that there is an apparent solution.
“I’ve already said something to (IU Director of Athletics) Scott Dolson about that,” Fischer told The Daily Hoosier. “They’re going to pipe in crowd noise for basketball just like they do for football.”
Fischer isn’t the only one who is relieved that his voice won’t take center stage in unwelcomed ways.
From his close proximity to the teams through the years, Fischer has heard enough to know that a sound buffer will be appreciated by Miller and others.
“There would probably be some blow ups from coaches and players that you would hear easily (on the broadcast) if they aren’t piping in the crowd noise, Fischer said.
“I’ve got a feeling that the coaches want the crowd noise to come in over the P.A. system, because I’m sure some of the coaches would not appreciate their language being passed along over the air.”
While artificial crowd noise will help with some of the technical details, the question remains, will Fischer’s call of the game be impacted?
Back on the football side, head coach Tom Allen has said that his team needs to “bring their own energy” in light of the fact that there are no fans to feed off.
Fischer will face a similar challenge across the parking lot when calling basketball games.
“There’s no question. I’ve always felt like crowd noise is critically important to a broadcast,” Fischer told The Daily Hoosier.
Fischer is unusual in the business because he doesn’t wear a headset, preferring instead to be immersed in the environment.
“You never really get a feel for the crowd’s anticipating of basket or a shot or all those kind of things,” he remarked as to why he resists blocking out some of the noise.
Just how authentic will that piped in crowd noise be? Will it be well-timed? Will it truly capture the normal energy inside the building? Will it be enough to “fool” Fischer?
For football the Big Ten gave teams a couple audio tracks to use for crowd noise. But the sounds of a basketball arena are completely different.
What about the energy of the student section at full-throat for a big game? The pep band? The cheerleaders? A friendly greeting to Matt Haarms?
For decades Indiana fans have turned off the television to listen to Fischer’s enthusiastic call. Can he replicate it from a nearly empty arena?
We’ll find out.
But Fischer really just wishes the fans could be at the games.
Fischer doesn’t hide his support for IU.
Sure, he will ask tough questions, and he is critical when necessary or when he sees something that just doesn’t seem right.
But Fischer wants to see IU win, and he doesn’t hide that. Perhaps he isn’t a fan in the same sense of the folks that typically sit in the stands on game day, but Fischer can certainly relate to them. In many respects, that is his job.
So when Fischer looks out into an empty Memorial Stadium or imagines an empty Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, he feels the same thing as much of the fan base — disappointment.
He imagines what the atmosphere for Saturday’s sunny, 70 degree day would have been like for No. 13 Indiana vs. Michigan.
He wonders what the raw emotion would have been like in the stands as Michael Penix, Jr. stretched for and reached the pylon against Penn State.
“We probably would have seen a major uptick in attendance this year,” Fischer said. “I feel bad that people missed it (the Penn State game). We’ve had thousands of faithful fans who have been loyal Indiana season ticket holders that didn’t get to see that like they normally would have.
“That’s just a shame. It truly is a shame.”
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