You can hear it coming from a far — the screeching of sneakers….the twang of a jumper as it drains nothing but net…..a steady dribble that turns into a jumper that squeaks off the glass. We at Retro College Cuts love college basketball as much as you do and we couldn’t kick off our year one launch without highlighting the history of the most symbolic beginning to any season in collegiate sports….MIDNIGHT MADNESS!
As historians of the game—or dare we say—college basketball anthropologists—its only natural to start at the events origin. It all began in 1971 with a 1.5 mile run at 12:03am on the campus of the University of Maryland. Who was the coaching mastermind behind it? None other than the legendary ”Lefty” Driesell. It was attended by only a few hundred Terp Fanatics at the track surrounding Byrd Stadium, and those that did attend, had no idea that they would become trailblazers of what is now a national phenomenon.
It’s popularity would spread to other powerhouse programs across the country in the early to mid 80’s. The University of Kansas and its head coach Larry Brown would title it “Late night in the Phog,” as he built his program into an eventual national title winner in 1988. To say Midnight Madness has evolved from 1971 would certainly be a gross understatement. Today, Midnight Madness is not complete unless you have a slam dunk contest, three point contest, half court toss and The Black Eyed Pea’s on stage. Venerable coaching legends like Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has driven a Harley Davidson onto the court. Even Florida’s Billy Donovan rose out of a coffin. We wonder if he ever envisioned what the PR department at Florida would eventually ask him to do when when he and Providence stormed the Final Four in 1987? Whether you like it or not—and its hard not to like, you can’t knock the success of the concept. In 2006, the University of Kentucky set a record for attendance at this type of sports rally as 23,312 wildcat fans filled Rupp Arena. At the University of Illinois, the men’s and women’s basketball teams hosted a scrimmage at their Memorial Stadium after a Illinois vs. Minnesota football game. Since the attendance for the football game was 62,870 the event was dubbed the “World’s Largest Basketball Practice” and certainly kicked off their season with a punch. Of note, that practice was actually held on October 11th not the 15th. That’s right, the “Madness” has become so big that most high profile programs hold their event on the closest Saturday to the 15th and not even at midnight anymore. In fact, it’s become more of a recruiting tool than anything else. In 2007, Scout.com reported that 160 of the top “blue chip” high school recruits were attending a Midnight Madness event. It’s efficiency in recruiting so unmatched that it actually spawned an ugly step brother. The “Off season Workout Rule,” that permits teams to practice 2 hours a week from September 15th through October 15th. Of note, Kentucky, in order to lore the top recruits on a weekend when Midnight Madness was not in play, began what it is now called its “Big Blue Madness” and stole the show. Can’t say we blame them for their ingenuity! Now, with the NBA lockout looking ever more certain, we have never been more primed to enjoy a college basketball season like the one that sits on the horizon. Once all of the free gear is fired from the t-shirt cannons, the 360 dunks are completed and Fergie walks of the stage we’ll be left to enjoy one of the purest spectacles in all of sports…..college basketball.
But we at Retro College Cuts will choose to remember “Midnight Madness” in its purest form — and invoke the memory of a crafty + promotional men’s basketball coach who had his team run a few miles around a track at midnight to get us excited for a new college basketball season. So we tip our hat to “Lefty” and say bring on the Madness —-because we can’t wait.