Midnight Madness ain't what it used to be.
The reasons are many. One, as Andy Katz writes today, is the impact of new offseason individual workouts and foreign trips, which have combined to give coaches a much better feel for their teams on the first day of "official" practice than ever before:
By the time practice officially begins for Division I men's teams Friday night, the majority already will be well ahead of schedule. If they took a foreign trip in the summer, then the progression is even further.
Because of a new NCAA rule, coaches could be with their teams during the summer if they were enrolled in classes. Team workouts for two hours a week could occur beginning Sept. 15.
"We already have a pretty good feel of what we need to do,'' Texas coach Rick Barnes said Wednesday afternoon, prior to the V Foundation dinner. "It doesn't dawn on me that Friday is the start of practice because I feel like we've been practicing. The rule changes have changed all of that.''
But it's not just the new practice rule, or the way coaches view their teams internally.
The truth is, Midnight Madness has been changing for a while now. When I was in school -- and I'm 27, so it wasn't so long ago -- Midnight Madness began at midnight. (Also, get off my lawn.) Because of this, there was a special feeling about the event, one that's hard to pin down but is probably best described as "buzz." There was a manic energy, borne not only of excitement for the return of basketball, but from the small yet monumental observations one felt could be gleaned from the actual scrimmage itself. It's like every member of a fan base came together on one night -- in the middle of the night, no less -- and began giddily scouting like a group of 15,000 old hands. It was one of my favorite nights of the season.
This year, more and more programs have followed the new Midnight Madness template. Their events aren't at midnight. Heck, by the time you read this Friday afternoon, Indiana's event will nearly be underway. "Afternoon Madness" doesn't quite have the same ring.
So Andy's story is just one more evolution -- or devolution -- of a tradition that keeps losing whatever luster it had in the first place, if any. The smart reaction to Andy's piece, that of Bylaw Blog's John Infante, says the NCAA should drop the pretense of the event (and the notion that there exists a college basketball offseason these days) and move first practice up to the beginning of October.
All of these things are true and, yeah, they're kind of a bummer.
Maybe the NCAA moves the start date up, or maybe they don't. Maybe the events are at midnight, and maybe they aren't. Guess what: It's still the first day of college basketball practice. It's still Midnight Madness. And I am still very, very excited. You can change a lot about what we recognize as "Midnight Madness," but that will remain.
In other words, from my family to yours: Happy Midnight Madness, everyone.