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Not the only madness: Comparing college basketball kickoff events

Duke is one of numerous programs around the country that participates in an annual season kickoff pep rally and scrimmage.
Duke is one of numerous programs around the country that participates in an annual season kickoff pep rally and scrimmage.

The sixth installment of Countdown to Craziness is quickly approaching, and Crazies know exactly how to celebrate this annual arrival of basketball season: a day in Krzyzewskiville followed by an evening in Cameron Indoor Stadium filled with student performances, coaching staff speeches and the highly-anticipated Blue and White scrimmage.

However unique the Crazies and their event might be, the concept of a public practice isn’t. Maryland head coach Lefty Driesell first invited fans to watch his team run a mile and a half to kick off the 1971-72 Terrapin season just three minutes into the official first day of NCAA-authorized practice.

The idea spread, leading to the phenomenon of Midnight Madness—now a trademark event—where teams at colleges across the country hold their first practice in front of a crowd sometime in mid-October, whenever the official practice season begins.

Changes to the NCAA rulebook to give teams more flexibility concerning the start of their schedules turned Midnight Madness into more of a spectacle than a productive practice. One of the main functions of these intrasquad scrimmages—besides introducing freshmen to playing in sold-out arenas—is to give recruits a taste of a school's basketball climate before their high school seasons are in full swing.

So if it’s common across colleges, what does Countdown look like away from Cameron?

Jabari Parker skied over three young fans during last year's Countdown to Craziness dunk contest.

One of the more famous Midnight Madness traditions takes place at Michigan State, where head coach Tom Izzo thinks of one ridiculous way after another to make his appearance at the event. Iowa State’s Jameel McKay reminded Crazies everywhere of Countdown to Craziness 2013—particularly Jabari Parker’s slam dunk over a group of children—when he picked a random fan to jump over before throwing it down in the dunk contest.

One of the most established opening events takes place at the University of Kentucky. Big Blue Madness—now in its 34th year—gathers fans to watch what was historically the Wildcats’ first practice, although now the team begins practice two weeks beforehand.

Despite the energy and excitement occasioned by these events, the lack of actual competition in an intrasquad practice or scrimmage often fails to bring the right amount of passion to the avid basketball fan. So let’s bring an element of conference competition to the basketball debut discussion—how does Countdown measure up in the ACC?

With 15 teams, the ACC is bursting with opportunities to kick off the basketball season. Unfortunately, it seems only a fraction of these schools know how to throw a mid-October practice party.

Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Florida State all have recorded evidence of public scrimmages in the 1990s that seem to have disappeared with the advent of the 21st century. On the next tier, Miami, Boston College, Virginia Tech and Virginia managed an intrasquad scrimmage sometime in the last five years that may or may not happen again this year—in Virginia’s case, this depends on administrators’ decision to answer chat room pleas for such an event.

Late to the game and in its own category, Georgia Tech will host its first White vs. Gold intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Clemson’s Orange and Purple scrimmage is actually four separate 10-minute scrimmages.

The final six ACC members—Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Louisville—all have an established tradition to ring in the basketball season. The attractions themselves vary between schools. For example, N.C. State’s scrimmage features high numbers of basketball alumni participating in a throwback game, North Carolina's Late Night with Roy has a new theme every year and Pittsburgh participates in two public scrimmages—the Oakland Zoo Scrimmage and the Blue and Gold Scrimmage, held at the Maggie Dixon Fair, which raises awareness about good heart health.

These schools’ dedication to giving their fans a glimpse of the season’s squad has remained despite the NCAA’s policy changes. The change to midnight practice rules may have altered the specific date of the events, but it hasn’t lessened the excitement surrounding them—the Carrier Dome was sold out for Syracuse’s opener, Orange Madness, which featured head coach Jim Boeheim entering on a Humvee.

So who finishes atop the ACC for kick-off events? An objective decision is complicated. I couldn't be at any of the other schools' ceremonial first practices, but I'll see you at Countdown.

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