It is called "Midnight Madness," this hyped-up celebration that has become as much a symbol of the college basketball season as its March counterpart. It is done everywhere now, coast-to-coast, from Division I mega-powers to backwater Division IIIs.
When it is held tomorrow night at the University of Maryland, Bob Bodell will be there, just as he was 20 years ago for what was widely considered the first such event of its kind. Many have credited the concept to Bodell's former coach, Lefty Driesell.
But Bodell will tell you differently.
"It was my idea," recalled Bodell, who was then a junior basketball player at Maryland and is now a vice president for a mortgagebanking company in Northern Virginia. "He wanted to get a jump on everybody, so I said, to be first, let's do it at 12:01."
Two years before, Driesell had brought his players out to a pitch-black Byrd Stadium at 6 in the morning to time them in the mile run. The only light was provided by a local television station covering the event for that night's newscast.
"It was easier to time them in the morning, so I didn't have to time them in the afternoon," Driesell said.
When several players turned in sub-six minute times, Driesell and assistant coach George Raveling got suspicious. It turned out that the players had cut across the darkened end zone. The next year, Driesell brought the players back to the track, but this time turned on the headlights of a few cars.
But it wasn't until the start of the 1972-73 preseason that Driesell heeded Bodell's suggestion completely, timing the players first and then bringing the team into Cole Field House at a minute past midnightfor their first practice.
Midnight Madness had officially begun.
"I thought, 'This is a pretty good idea,' " Driesell said. "A lot of people came to watch us."
Except for the fact that freshman guard Mo Howard chipped a bone in his foot, Driesell knew that this was an event to build interest in what would become a memorable season at Maryland. In Detroit, a young unknown coach named Dick Vitale thought it was a pretty good idea, too. The following year, he staged a 24-hour basketball marathon at the University of Detroit, with games every two hours leading to the featured intrasquad scrimmage.
"It created a spirit and enthusiasm that you wouldn't have gotten from a normal practice," Vitale said.
Driesell liked it so much, he held midnight practice every year until his departure from College Park in 1986 and has continued the tradition at James Madison.
In fact, a significant number of Division I programs now hold Midnight Madness. It has been done at Kentucky since 1982. It came to Kansas in 1984 with the theme of "Late Night With Larry Brown," and this year the Jayhawks' debut will be shown on statewide television. Even Dean Smith is doing it for the first time this year at North Carolina.
"I was a little surprised to hear that," said Kansas coach Roy Williams, a former longtime assistant under Smith. "But it's a great way for your fans and your players to get excited about the season."
For a variety of reasons, many smaller Division I programs don't believe in holding Midnight Madness.Summing up the feelings of several local coaches, first-year Navy coach Don Devoe said, "If people show up, it's fine, but if they don't, why practice at midnight?"
It has been done at Maryland periodically since Driesell left, but not like it will be done this year. Then again, Vitale has never been there for the start of preseason practice.
Vitale, ESPN's college basketball analyst and cult figure, will be at College Park as the master of pomp-and-ceremonies, first at a fund-raising banquet at 8 p.m., then for an alumni game at 10, a Vitale Sound-A-Like contest and finally for the main event a little past midnight.
"I can't wait to get to Maryland, COLE FIELD HOUSE, MIDNIGHT MADNESS, BABEEEEEE!," Vitale bellowed over his car phone from Florida last week.
"We wanted to do something special," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team is eligible for postseason competition for the first time in two years after serving NCAA sanctions. "Normally, I would rather get a full practice in on the first day, but a lot of these kids have been through so much."
Of the eight Division I schools in the area, only Maryland and Morgan State will hold Midnight Madness. Morgan's Hill Fieldhouse will be the site of the country's largest pajama party, with fans expected to dress appropriately. Admission to both arenas is free.
"It's good for students to have an activity on campus," said Michael Holmes, Morgan State's second-year coach. "It's better than having something where people can get hurt."
But they won't be the only local schools partaking in what has become a rite of passage into the college basketball season. Bob Valvano, who was hired last month at Division III St. Mary's, will try to hold an event similar to the one he held at Catholic University. There, he invited the fans onto the floor to participate in shooting contests and other games.
In fact, Valvano had never held Midnight Madness until he got to Catholic. At St. Francis College in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Valvano coached in the mid 1980s, he was concerned about inviting the public because the neighborhood where the school is situated isn't the safest.
"I thought somebody could get killed at that time of night," Valvano said.
No matter what area of the country it is held, it is a concern that some students are going to use the event for an excuse to get drunk beforehand. With the first practice pushed back by the NCAA from Oct. 15 to Nov. 1 -- within hours of Halloween -- there is even more worry that things could get out of hand.
"I think having it on Halloween is only going to add to the usual lunacy," said one local athletic director who didn't want to be identified. He said he would have rejected a request by his coach to hold Midnight Madness. "College kids don't need another excuse to get drunk and go crazy."
While Maryland will try to curb that behavior by selling hot coffee rather than cold beer, things could get a little wild inside Cole Field House tomorrow night. Even if other schools hold it in the future, don't ever expect to see it at Mount St. Mary's.
At least not until Jim Phelan retires.
"It's past my bedtime," Phelan said.
Where: Cole Field House, College Park
What: First practice of the 1992-93 season for the Maryland men's basketball team
Schedule: Terrapin Club dinner at 8 p.m. (sold out), doors open at 10 p.m., alumni game at 10:15 p.m., Dick Vitale Sound-a-Like contest at 11:15 p.m., introduction of men's and women's teams at 11:45 p.m., men's intrasquad scrimmage at 12:01.