Midnight Madness Has Lost Its Way: How to Fix ItPosted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2011
Ed. Note: this column originally ran on October 15, 2010. We received such a positive response from it that we’re running it again this year, and quite possibly every year until changes are made.
Blasphemer. Defiler. Hater.
These are the words you’re going to use to describe us after you read this column. In fact, you may already be using them simply by scanning the title. What’s wrong with this joint, you might say? Isn’t Midnight Madness day a ritualistic celebration of the return of college hoops — a singularly original basketball-only event that juices up the masses of fans from coast to coast yearning for the shortened fall days where the lonely bounce of an orange ball in a far-away gym represents that all is right with the world again?
To this we respond: well, yeah… it was.
Forgive us for going all Charlie Brown Christmas on you, as we’re definitely going to sound like our dad when we say these things, but the “good old days” of Midnight Madness were simply better. What was once a localized phenomenon driven by student interest and an excuse to go crazy on a random Tuesday night has become an over-the-top, over-produced, over-compensated can-you-top-this Lady Gaga show filled with indoor fireworks, race cars, people dangling from the rafters and the rest of it.
This isn’t a Kanye concert or Cirque du Soleil, folks; it’s a basketball practice.
Give us Lefty Driesell and his car headlights illuminating a track at 12:01 am or hell, even Dick Vitale losing his mind after drinking so much coffee that his very DNA was jittery. Give us a countdown clock that actually counts down to something and a student body that’s had enough down time to get, shall we say, socially lubricated. Give us a grand introduction without all the peripherals followed by a high-wire dunk contest and a spirited scrimmage. Give us hope that we’re going to be in for a special year as we leave the arena at 1:30 am on a cool fall night, because hope always wears a little better with a group of buddies heading back to the dorms in the wee hours of the morning.
To that end, we’ve created a list of things that need to change, and they need to change as soon as possible. As in next year. Or tonight. Whenever anyone enterprising enough to see what’s been lost will make this thing cool again. And we’ll throw in an added bonus. The first school to get back to an actual “Midnight Madness” will be rewarded with wall-to-wall RTC coverage next time — how’s that for an incentive? Here are the top five things that need to happen as we see them.
Get back to Midnight. If you’ve ever had a chance to attend a true Midnight Madness versus a 7 pm Madness, you know the difference. People on campus and fans planning to go anticipate it all day long. They know they’re going to be staying up late, so they’re regularly hitting the espresso and the Red Bull, but they don’t care. They file in at around 10 o’clock or a little later and spend the next couple of hours watching that countdown, doing cheers and buzzing about the team. The anticipation is positively sublime because you know that nothing can “officially” happen until the witching hour strikes. Sometimes you’ll catch a glimpse of the players in the tunnel or looking through a curtain and the crowd will roar. The students, hopped up on whatever fancies them and ready to rage, will be completely stoked by midnight; the rest of the crowd is full of die-hards. Nobody in the building will be waiting on the mascot to do something funny or worrying about traffic or catching the evening news on the way home — sticks-in-the-mud like that are necessarily excluded from the proceedings. Only fun people need show, and they will in droves.
Ban all pyrotechnics, acrobats and annoying skits. Fun is fun, but watching Roy Williams prance around to Souljah Boy in a hula skirt is not. Nor is setting off a bunch of indoor fireworks that has the crowd coughing for the next thirty minutes. Nor is having a mascot descend from the rafters like something out of a James Bond movie. Nor is entering the arena in an Indy-style race car. Seriously with all this? Who are we trying to attract to these things? College basketball fans or Ritalin-addled tweens who don’t know the difference between a jump shot and a jump stop?
We love the ladies, but lose the combined events. We understand and even half-heartedly support Title IX, but that doesn’t mean we have to manipulate the captive audience to trot out the women’s teams at most of these events, where at probably all but a half-dozen schools not a single person in the audience can name one female player. We applaud Connecticut for doing their own thing, and certainly a school like Tennessee should do so as well, but this doesn’t need to mimic the NBA’s rapidly-deteriorating All-Star weekend — most fans really aren’t interested in seeing contrived male vs. female three-point competitions (yay, everyone go wild when the female outshoots the male!) and other ridiculous battle of the sexes-style events. The ladies who can ball and have the fans should have their own events, exactly the same way they do with their practices, games, tournaments and pretty much everything else.
Bring back the ESPN overnight coverage. For a period in the early- to mid-90s, Midnight Madness reached its apex. ESPN started at 11:45 pm ET and would track events from coast to coast for the next three-plus hours, following the party west as the earth rotated on its axis. We might start at Duke and Cincinnati at 12 am eastern, followed by Kansas and Wisconsin at 1 am, then Utah and New Mexico at 2 am, finishing things off at Arizona and Santa Clara at 3 am. It was compelling stuff, worth staying up for in the same way that people do every New Year’s Eve until the west coast has joined the next year. What ESPN does now is much more staid because the events don’t have the same flow that derives from a midnight start time, and a lof ot the excitement is lost as a result. If we can get back to #1, this format change should be the natural result.
Make Midnight Madness October 15 in perpetuity. Again, this is how it used to be. If October 15 fell on a Monday night, so be it. If it was on a rainy Wednesday in the middle of midterms, all the better. Midnight Madness is for the real fans, the die-hards, the folks who seriously look into purchasing coffins in their school’s colors. These aren’t the annoying people who leave the arena during the season with four minutes to go and a single-digit lead. Having the date the exact same every year anchors the event; it causes less confusion and legitimizes it. You know what happens now? Most fans don’t have a clue as to when Midnight Madness will be. Which Friday will it be this year again? I don’t know, the NCAA keeps changing it, they’ll say. If it’s moved back to October 15 forever-more, there’ll be no problem planning for it. You’ll just know it.
Don’t get us wrong — Midnight Madness is still important because it initiates a new season of many great things to come. But it can be vastly improved from its current state, and if you disagree, then we submit you’ve probably never been to a good one. So there you have it — five ways to make Midnight Madness fun again. Five ways to get the students more involved and less of a boring Hollywood production for people who probably can’t name half of the players. Five ways to light a (figurative) spark into what used to be one of the most fun nights of the year. Take our word for it — it actually was better in the good old days, at least when it comes to this.