There are countless reasons to love Midnight Madness. The fanfare, the recruits, the contests, the costumes, the dunk extravaganzas, the musical acts -- Midnight Madness, with all its school-specific names and over-the-top iterations, has become a thoroughly modern, and thoroughly awesome, part of college basketball calendar. It's great.
None of those is my favorite part, however. And, no, it's not what you're thinking. The fact that Midnight Madness is the unofficial start of the college basketball season -- which also makes it, thank God, the unofficial end of this inexorable offseason -- is pretty great, sure, but it's No. 2 on the list.
What's the best thing about Midnight Madness? The scrimmage.
What's so great about a scrimmage? What's so awesome about 10 players playing a halfhearted 10 minutes of basketball after the celebratory fanfare has broken? What's so mind-blowing about a few warmed-over offensive sets?
If you're a fan, you don't need me to tell you, but I will anyway. Because that scrimmage is what fandom is. It's showing up -- often after a long drive -- to your school's gym on a Friday night in October so you can get a glimpse of This Year's Team. Who's looking good? Can that new guy play? Who hit the weight room this offseason? Who looks like a bum? Why do we run this offense? Could this team actually win 25 games? How good are we, anyway? After all the pomp of Midnight Madness, you sit back, chomp some popcorn, and talk basketball. It's sublime.
In the modern era, these conversations oftentimes live on the Internet; you can rush home and compare your notes with fellow fanatics on your favorite team-specific blog. That's a lot of fun, of course, but the medium doesn't matter. Those conversations are medium-agnostic. They're as old as sport itself. They're the collective tie that binds us all in our love of the game. They're sacred. And as long as sports exist, those conversations -- with friends, with family, with potentially insane people you know only as "HoosierPhil45" -- will be with us.
That's why we love sports. The rest is only so much noise.
So, friends and readers, enjoy your Midnight Madness wherever you may roam. (This is as probably as good a time as any to remind you that ESPNU is rocking the madness in a big way Friday night, so if you're too far from campus to be present, check in on the fun on TV.) Enjoy your dunk contest, your zany coach's costume, and your musical guest of choice. But don't forget the scrimmage. It's important to remember the heart of things.
Oh, and I almost forgot: Welcome to college basketball season. It's all uphill from here.