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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Halt of ‘Madness’ a disappointment

    For six of the last seven years, McKale Madness has signaled the start of the men’s college basketball season at Arizona.

    For one year at least, that tradition will be shelved when UA head coach Lute Olson and his staff conduct a normal practice rather than the fan-friendly event.

    From a competitive standpoint, nobody can blame Olson, who decides each year if holding Madness will be best for his program. That first McKale Madness practice is anything but legitimate and not the best way for a team to start off the year.

    Despite the importance of quality practice time, there’s also something to be said for the fans of college basketball who can smell the start of the season with the first dribbles of Madness. This year, those fans get a couple more weeks of hoops withdrawal.

    The Wildcats have every reason to want their five freshmen to compete in their first practice sessions in a closed environment better conducive to learning.

    But on the flip side, what about the other Arizona freshmen who want to attend a free event that includes creative player introductions (think “”Fendi Cent”” and 6-foot-11 Kirk Walters doing the worm), dunking and shooting contests and a scrimmage?

    Madness should represent these campus newcomers’ first taste of college basketball, as well as that of the players on the court, who happen to have quite a bit of fun at the event.

    “”It’s disappointing because it’s like a rite of passage for the players,”” said David Roost, Zona Zoo executive director. “”It’s like a set tradition. It’s taking away one crucial element. They’re depriving freshmen of their first opportunity to get a taste of what basketball’s like here.””

    It will also deprive members of the Tucson community who cannot obtain valued tickets to regular-season games but could sit front and center for the Madness festivities that help create a bond between city and team through autograph sessions.

    The Madness, which originally was dubbed Midnight Madness because it began at that time, has started earlier and earlier each of the past two years before being scrapped altogether this season.

    In 2005, the event was slated to start at 9 p.m. following a volleyball game, after the NCAA allowed the first day of practice to begin before midnight of the Saturday nearest Oct. 15. Last year the event began even earlier, starting at 7 p.m.

    Although it’s understandable for Olson and his staff to dislike the event being held at midnight because of how it affects the next day’s practice, pushing it back earlier has caused Madness to lose some of its original charm.

    The tradition of starting practice at midnight on the first possible practice day dates back to 1970, when Georgia State’s then-head coach Lefty Driesell opened practice at that time to get a jump on the competition.

    That eventually led to the all-out parties across the nation as hoops crazies flocked to their favorite college campus to welcome in the season. ESPN televised the biggest schools’ midnight bashes, complete with the athleticism of a dunk contest and the thrill of a student shooting a halfcourt shot for tuition.

    That’s not to mention the impact the event can have on recruiting. In recent years, current Wildcats Chase Budinger, Jerryd Bayless and Alex Jacobson have attended the event as recruits, as well as class of 2009 targets David and Travis Wear.

    Not that missing the event would necessarily make the difference in a recruiting battle, but watching the excitement of Madness could only help.

    In college and professional sports, teams walk a fine line between doing what’s best for the team and what’s best for the fans. That goes for everything from raising ticket prices and changing logos in the pro world to staging a fan-friendly event even if it does not get the most out of a day of practice in the college realm.

    Let’s hope that in the future the Wildcats will think of the fans first and bring the Madness back.

    Michael Schwartz is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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