For most college basketball programs across the country, Midnight Madness has become a major tradition. The late-night spectacle filled with basketball and showmanship signifies the start of a new season.
But, how did Midnight Madness come to be? It turns out its humble beginnings took place at the University of Maryland.
In 1971, legendary head coach Lefty Driesell had been at the helm of the Terps basketball squad for two seasons. Helping the program reach a new prestige in his first couple of years, Driesell wanted to take Maryland to the next level and show the rest of college basketball they were legit contenders.
His idea: have his team be the first ones to practice on the season by participating in an event at midnight on the earliest possible date. This way, in Driesell's eyes, the Terps would the first team on the court at the beginning and the last one on it at the end when they held the National Championship trophy.
“This was Lefty’s way of saying, ‘Hey world, Maryland is here now. We got a great team and I’m going to be the first team in America to practice,'" Tom McMillen, who was a member of the 1971 team, said.
Besides sending a message to other programs, Driesell also used Midnight Madness as a way to drum up school spirit. If Maryland was going to become one of the top schools in the nation and a respected team, they needed fans to get involved and stay committed.
“Getting the campus to rally behind the basketball team," Tony Massenburg, who played under Driesell in 1985, said. “You don’t need a reason to get a bunch of college students to stay up until midnight."
The first Midnight Madness took place on October 15, 1971, at 12:03 a.m. Unlike a majority of the nights in modern times, the Maryland team wasn't in a gym, but rather out at Byrd Stadium running a mile. Still, the event got the attention of locals and a national audience.
“It really set off a firestorm across the country," McMillen said.
In the third installment of Midnight Madness, Driesell had Maryland participate in a scrimmage open to the public, more in line with what is seen across the country now. It was that event that turned Midnight Madness into the popular spectacle it is today.
“The third year we ended up having a scrimmage. That’s really what launched midnight madness," McMillen said.
What began as Driesell's idea has transformed into a common night shared among campuses across the country. Every year Midnight Madness gets bigger, with scrimmages only being part of the action. Wild introductions, skits and more theatrics have turned the first practice of the season into much more than that.
Maryland still participates and even paid homage to the original Midnight Madness in 2018. In honor of the program's 100th season and Driesell's introduction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Midnight Mile made its return.
While the night continues to grow in size, the original meaning still holds true. Driesell held Midnight Madness as a way to showcase Maryland and prove it was the best place to be. Coaches across the country are doing the same, trying to show that their campus is the place to be.
“What it’s become is a recruiting tool," Massenburg said. "It’s the means to sort of showcase your program.”
What began in College Park has turned into one of college basketball's best traditions. Despite Driesell being the creator, the start of Midnight Madness is sometimes relatively unknown by the public. If the head coach had known how big it would become back in 1971, that may have been different.
“I tell Lefty my only regret is that you didn’t copyright Midnight Madness because it was a very valuable asset and literally just an idea he came up with just to be first," McMillen said.
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