By Ryan Romano
Center Copy Editor
At colleges across the country, basketball is returning with a bang. Midnight Madness events, as they’re often known, will attract thousands of fans and feature all sorts of festivities. The players take to the court, eager to shake off the rust, strut their stuff and make a run for the championship.
But the tradition wouldn’t exist without the University of Maryland.
In 1971, Terps men’s basketball coach Lefty Driesell kicked off his practices three minutes after midnight on Oct. 15, in accordance with NCAA rules at the time. The inaugural event, unpromoted and unhyped, nevertheless attracted crowds of students to Maryland Stadium (formerly Byrd Stadium) where the team was required to run a mile on the track.
Two years later, the Terps decided to begin their campaign with a late-night scrimmage in Cole Field House, which more than 8,000 students attended. From there Midnight Madness took off — to the amazement of its creator.
“I’ve done a lot of crazy things to get attention, but that wasn’t one of them,” Driesell told Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis in 2014. “I was just trying to get an early jump on practice. I had no idea what it was going to lead to.”
Nowadays, the Terps’ season-opening gathering goes by a different, unique name: Maryland Madness. Thanks to an NCAA rule change in 2005, this university moved the event from midnight to the evening, making the state-based moniker more fitting.
And this year’s Maryland Madness, held in Xfinity Center on Oct. 14, certainly lived up to its title. The arena’s gates opened at 5 p.m., where fans had the opportunity to watch the volleyball team’s match against Iowa. But the main event started at 8 p.m., when the lights went down and the glow sticks came on.
After introductory montages for each squad, the men’s and women’s teams stormed onto the hardwood. The announcers introduced each player, who raced out individually from the darkness and into the spotlight, waving to the ecstatic crowd. All the players chose their own entrance music, with the selections ranging from Kanye West to Calvin Harris to Taylor Swift (apparently, forward Damonte Dodd is a fan of “Blank Space”).
Marcel Massarani, a freshman government and politics major, hasn’t followed the school’s basketball teams especially closely, but he enjoyed the equal billing given to both teams.
“It was nice to see the two different teams, and how they stacked up against each other,” Massarani said. “They were both really cool to watch.”
Maryland Madness’ theme this year was “Sportscenter,” which featured prominently throughout the evening. After a brief address from Sportscenter host and proud former Terp Scott Van Pelt to kick things off, sportscaster Johnny Holliday and color analyst Christy Winters Scott emerged on a Sportscenter-style stage, erected on the south end of the court. From there, they narrated the Maryland Madness competitions — which were far more plentiful than years past.
First up was the skills challenge, where each team had to weave its way through an obstacle course before sinking some tough shots. After that came the three-point contest, in which players shot from downtown as rapidly as they could, and the dunk contest, which gave the highest leapers a chance to pull off some spectacular trick plays.
Junior economics major Nick Raines said these bouts helped to hype up the Xfinity Center crowd.
“All the NBA-type challenges, the dunk contest, the three-point challenge — it was really cool,” Raines said. “It was kind of like an All-Star Weekend, which gave it a big feel and made us feel like a huge team.”
To close out the night, the men’s and women’s teams each played an intrasquad scrimmage, giving the spectators a taste of what’s to come. These duels, hard-fought and (playfully) trash-talked, were an exquisite end to a supremely entertaining March Madness.
It’s been 45 years since Driesell roused his players late one Friday night and made them hustle their way to Maryland Stadium. While Maryland Madness has evolved considerably since then, the teams at its center have remained great: The women’s basketball team has made the NCAA tournament in six straight seasons, the men’s team in two straight. Perhaps this year’s Maryland Madness will punch their tickets for another trip to March Madness.