The Need And Desire For Midnight Madness
There are so many reasons to be excited for the future of Penn State men’s basketball.
The Nittany Lions have won at least 16 games in each of the past three seasons. For the first time in program history, head coach Pat Chambers and his staff brought in a top-25 recruiting class — one that includes three of the top 10 high school basketball players in Pennsylvania. Marquee out-of-conference meetings with Pitt and preseason number-one ranked Duke along with an ESPN broadcasted game against Michigan State at the storied Palestra highlight this year’s schedule.
Despite all of these reasons, Penn State has neglected to take full advantage of the opportunity at-hand to cultivate a basketball culture at a historically football-centric school. And without that support, the program won’t advance as a formidable force on the national level.
On Saturday, the Nittany Lions will host an open practice and intra-squad scrimmage in order to give students and fans a preview of what to expect for the upcoming, promising basketball season.
52 miles away from the Bryce Jordan Center. In Altoona.
With this weekend being the only one without a football game until December, it is the ideal time for the basketball team to steal the attention of fans. While the devoted few who are willing to make the trek on I-99 can still get a taste of the team this weekend, the attendance and buzz on Saturday will not compare to a pre-season event on campus.
Midnight Madness is a tradition throughout college basketball that is recognized by many other Power-Five teams. In the middle of the night, students and fans come together to celebrate the official start to the college basketball pre-season. Even Rutgers, who won one game in Big Ten play last year, hosted a well-attended Midnight Madness last weekend.
Penn State though will christen its season with an open practice an hour away from campus.
To kick off the preseason in Chambers’ first two years at Penn State, the program hosted Hoops Madness in Rec Hall. The first event in 2011 was an underwhelming attempt and was poorly attended even with the Nittany Lions coming off of an NCAA Tournament appearance. The Hoops Madness that kicked off the 2012-13 campaign however was a much bigger hit, featuring a performance by rapper Big Sean and a dunk contest won by Tim Frazier and judged by Allen Robinson, Gerald Hodges, and Jordan Hill. Despite the success of the 2012 Hoops Madness, we haven’t seen a late night celebration of basketball since then.
Even though Penn State doesn’t have Kentucky’s blue-blood status or cult following and while Drake likely wouldn’t come to shoot around with Shep Garner and Payton Banks, this type of event strikes a chord with students. It needs to return.
While there is so much promise in Chambers’ program, support has been low in recent years despite the stalwart efforts of the Legion of Blue.
In the fifteen seasons since Penn State’s last NCAA Tournament win, the Nittany Lions have averaged an attendance of less than 7,000 per game just four times. Two of them have come in the last three years. With the increase in season ticket prices and students now having to pay for out-of-conference games, attendance may once again falter in an arena that seats over 15,000 people. If basketball is to ever become a prominent part of student life, there has to be more emphasis on student engagement, especially considering the competition for attendance that the widely successful and popular wrestling and hockey teams pose.
One of the ways that the basketball team can generate support is by following the leads of their winter counterparts. This Friday for instance, the wrestling team will host its own annual preseason kickoff event in Rec Hall, with an open practice, barbecue, and silent auction.
A Midnight Madness-like event that’s accessible to students would be the perfect way to get fans excited for the season, especially on a rare weekend when students aren’t preoccupied with football. Fans would love to get a glimpse of the upcoming season for themselves by seeing the hype surrounding the trio of freshmen from Roman Catholic, watching Garner and Banks go head to head in a three-point shootout, and staring in awe at a dunk show courtesy of Josh Reaves.
I just don’t understand how a school as sports-crazed as Penn State is doesn’t have any notable event or tradition to jumpstart the basketball season, especially considering how on-the-rise the program is.
With Chambers at the helm and highly rated players coming in every year, Penn State is finally in a position to turn the corner and begin its ascent to the aristocracy of college basketball. The Nittany Lions however need support to reach that pedestal. And filling the BJC on a nightly basis is as much of the program’s responsibility as it is the fans’.