But he does have a friend, 21-year-old Jackson Weimer, who owns an Xbox 360 and a copy of the game NCAA College Basketball, which was discontinued a decade ago. And he has a mom with a basement. So it was that Safran and Weimer both started planning an entire virtual March Madness tournament, playing as every team in projected bracket and streaming the entire thing on Twitch to entertain other bored sports fans.
Since national sports leagues have canceled games and postponed seasons for the indefinite future, sports fans all over the world are missing the ongoing drama and continuity of college and professional competition. Many sports fans have asked ESPN to consider airing old games with commentary, just to have something to watch and reminisce over. Safran wanted to get more hands on.
“[We] were devastated that March Madness was over, it’s the biggest part of the year,” Safran said, explaining that he texted ideas to Weimer. “I needed to watch something, and I realized no one else is going to do this so I figured I’d do it myself.”
Weimer just graduated from the University of Delaware this past winter. He landed a great job at Literally Media, which owns several meme-focused entertainment sites, including the early-aughts humor website eBaum’s World. It was a dream job. Then the coronavirus hit, and his long-awaited move to New York City and working life was indefinitely postponed.
But eBaum’s World has a Twitch channel for streaming shows, a perfect venue for their video game-center basketball tournament. Just one more problem.
“This is our first time streaming ever,” Weimer said laughing.
Safran, Weimer and his little brother Louis and their friend Ryan Gunsiorowski, still living on campus at Penn State, spent the last two weeks learning how to stream. Safran also had to ask his dad for help in putting together a bracket.
The stream will also include a pep band of sorts, with Weimer’s brother Louis, a Class of 2022 University of Pittsburgh student, playing trumpet.
The four launched this past Sunday with a mock Selection Sunday special in which Safran and Weimer talked through their own fantasy bracket. In the coming weeks, the two will basically play head to head as both teams, with the winning team advancing.
“It’s pretty much our own talk show, with a green screen and high angles, or at least the closest thing we could get to,” said Louis Weimer.
On what would have been Selection Sunday, the four launched with a 26-minute show from the Weimer basement in Pennsylvania.
They made sure to include ridiculous caster hyperbole (“It’s gonna be like ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ It’s gonna be awesome”) and “live field reporting” from Penn State student Gunsiorowski, who filmed at various empty locations around campus pretending he was at other schools.
Gunsiorowski even reported “from” Liberty University, taking a shot at its Trump-supporting school president, Jerry Falwell, who decided to keep classes open.
“Here at Liberty University, basketball may be canceled, but classes are not!” Gunsiorowski reported. “Their president thinks the whole Corona Madness is a plot against Trump. Whattaya know boys? Back to you.”
The whole set was held together by duct tape and extra storage containers, the wardrobe consisted of a bunch of ill-fitting dress shirts and blazers, and the production featured sad, bored skits put together by other Delaware students. The green screen often flashed memes; Weimer is the owner of several large and popular Instagram meme accounts.
It was silly, lighthearted, snarky and wholesome. It ended with a more sober tone, with Weimer’s father Carl appearing on stream with the family’s 21.4-pound cat, Princeton.
“Make sure you maintain safe social distancing,” he said on the stream.
Karl Weimer, 53, who has worked in epidemiology outreach for the last two decades, said he’s proud of his sons and their friends for their creativity and their urgency to learn in a time of crisis.
“If you look over the centuries, there have been many creative people who have developed things while they’re in quarantine,” Weimer said, referring to recent stories about Shakespeare’s productivity during a plague quarantine.
“This is certainly not on the same scale,” he said laughing. “But people young or old will respond in so many innovative and fantastic ways when they’re in a situation they’ve never seen before.”
The stream ended with more than 4,600 concurrent viewers, by most measures a successful stream, especially for a haphazard and hastily-strung-together concept.
Even as their tournament continues in the days ahead, Safran has his gaze fixed beyond March Madness. Signing off Sunday, he stared into the camera and declared, “I’m Josh Safran and I am looking for an internship this summer!”