Mid-evening madness?

Midnight suddenly too late as NCAA rule allows basketball teams to hit the court at 7

October 14, 2005|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

The NCAA describes it as a safety issue, but Lefty Driesell doesn't buy the rationale behind a rule change that discourages one of his contributions to college basketball.

"It might not be good for the alumni and us old guys," Driesell said, "but the kids still like Midnight Madness."

A publicity stunt Driesell concocted at Maryland in 1971 evolved into three decades worth of fans entering arenas nationwide on the Friday night nearest Oct. 15. When the clock hit midnight, contenders and also-rans started the season with a session that was more entertainment than practice.

Earlier this year, the NCAA board of directors pushed the start time up to 7 p.m. today, in response to a Pacific-10 proposal that originated with California coach Ben Braun, who didn't see the wisdom in fans driving home from the Haas Pavilion at 1:30 in the morning.

All of the tickets - free of charge - to tonight's "Maryland Madness" at the Comcast Center are gone. The doors open at 6:30 p.m., and Brenda Frese's women's team will scrimmage after 9:15 introductions. Gary Williams' men will do the same at 10:15, but Driesell said it won't be the same.

Whether it was at Davidson, Maryland, James Madison or Georgia State, Driesell-coached teams ran a mile for time near the first day of practice. In 1971, when freshmen were ineligible and sophomores Len Elmore and Tom McMillen were about to take the program to an elite level, the Terps reported to Byrd Stadium, then ringed by a track, and took off at 12:03 a.m. on Oct. 15.

The witnesses included curious students and a few reporters. On to something, Driesell shifted the event to Cole Field House, where the crowds soon surpassed 10,000. The event later saw Steve Francis bound out of the stands for a dunk in 1998. In Bloomington, Ind., it was the platform where Hoosiers coach Bobby Knight invited his critics to kiss his derriere.

The time change has been called family-friendly, but Driesell maintains that misses the point.

"We originated it for the students," said Driesell, 73, who is retired and living in Virginia Beach. "They're into the nightlife. That's why some people are still doing it."

That's the case 25 miles up Interstate 95, at UMBC. A significant portion of the 3,500 students who live on campus asked to hold on to the tradition, so the women's and men's teams will be introduced after midnight.

Like Maryland, two other state Division I teams will offer a modified version for fans. After an abundance of roster turnover at Coppin State, coach Fang Mitchell needs a close look at some walk-ons, so he'll have a full practice at 7:30 tonight, then open the doors around 11:30, in conjunction with a party the student government has organized. In Princess Anne, UMES will get things started at 10 p.m.

The change is of no consequence to Navy or Mount St. Mary's, which didn't have Midnight Madness last year. They better get to bed early in Emmitsburg, since coach Milan Brown will conduct his first practice tomorrow morning. Morgan State's Butch Beard will also get things going tomorrow, but his 10 a.m. practice will be open to the public.

When Towson coach Pat Kennedy was at Florida State, one Midnight Madness followed an NBA exhibition between the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons. He'll inquire about the Washington Wizards doing something similar in 2006 at the Towson Center. Kennedy's first practice is closed, and the Tigers are making their fan push for the Nov. 19 opener against Loyola.

The Greyhounds are promoting a Nov. 3 visit from ESPN studio analyst Digger Phelps. After his first season at Loyola included lots of outreach work, coach Jimmy Patsos is placing more focus on an appealing on-court product.

"We're not doing anything official," Patsos said of tonight's 7 p.m. start, "but if anyone wants to watch practice, the doors will be open."

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

Maryland Madness Tonight, 7, Comcast Center, College Park

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