College Hoops Midnight Madness: Origins, Traditions, Current Highlights


You know what today is?

The official start of college basketball season as Midnight Madness gets underway at numerous schools all across the country. Madness is an annual event on college campuses celebrating the first day in mid-October that the NCAA permits formal, official basketball practices. The event’s name originates from those specific events that start at midnight- the very first moment it’s allowed.

Today, I attended a Chicago college basketball media luncheon featuring all five city teams (DePaul, Loyola, UIC, Northwestern and Chicago St.). One of the coaches mentioned on dais that midnight madness began with legendary Maryland coach Lefty Driesell turning his car’s headlights on in the parking lot and making his Terps players run outside.

So I thought I would look it up; and see how it led to where we are today when it comes to this tradition.

And yes, Maryland Terrapins head coach Lefty Driesell is officially credited with starting the tradition at 12:03 a.m. on October 15, 1971 with a 1.5 mile run.

And believe it or not, 3,000 fans attended that practice by surrounding the Byrd Stadium track in College Park, Maryland. Driesell continued the annual midnight practice session throughout his regime in “Fear the Turtle” land.

In 1982, the Kentucky Wildcats first officially promoted a celebration dubbed “Midnight Madness” as a school event with formal entertainment acts and an invited student body.

Some campuses have sunrise practice session events on the opening day of the season, while most of the big boy programs hold their show during prime time. Today it’s a marquee event for boosterism and recruiting. Schools sometimes schedule banner raising events in conjunction with slam dunk contests, three-point shooting demonstrations, and intra-squad scrimmages. The couple of events I’ve attended at my alma mater, the University of Illinois, are in this vein. One year, Lou Henson came out of a coffin (because the event was held so close to Halloween) and later made a funny joke about his age.

Another of the more famous events is “Late Night in the Phog” at Kansas, which was started in 1985 by Larry Brown and is now broadcast in live streaming video via the Internet.

Tom Izzo is known to dress in costume for the event. One year he did King Leonidas (when the movie “300” was at its peak in popularity), last year he did the spaceman outfit in reference to the upcoming Final Four being in Houston.

Northwestern took the cake in 2010 though- at least in my opinion. They had a Snoop Dogg concert on campus that night. Not at the actual madness event, but promoted in conjunction.

Doesn’t get much better than that.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports, an official Google News site that generates millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

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