I’m a passionate Maryland basketball fan and a devoted lover of Cole Field House, so Friday night’s Maryland Madness should have been cathartic for me. I arrived at Cole promptly at 6:30 p.m., giddy with enthusiasm and expecting a night of true “madness” with energy, surprises and excitement.
I walked out of Cole at about 9:15 p.m. with a very different feeling: profound disappointment. Maryland Madness, which should have been a joyous, entertaining celebration of Terps basketball, was instead a dull, overlong mess.
The night certainly had its share of memorable moments: a riveting introductory video about the history of Cole Field House; the thrill of seeing Mark Turgeon, Gary Williams and Lefty Driesell together at center court; a standard death-defying performance from Gymkana. (Seriously, how do they do that?)
But these sporadic bursts of energy were consistently deflated by a series of head-scratching, momentum-killing moments.
The spectacular entrances of the men’s and women’s basketball teams were immediately followed by halfhearted advertisements for ticket plans and the persistent promotion of the hashtag #Back2Cole. There’s nothing wrong with self-promotion — Maryland Madness is essentially one giant marketing event for the athletic department — but the presentation couldn’t have been worse. The advertisements always came right after the most energetic events, sucking the life out of the room.
The most inexcusable display of poor event planning came at about 8 p.m. The women’s team had just been introduced, with the crowd roaring for Brenda Frese as she approached midcourt. The energy in the room was palpable; Cole was ready to explode, just like old times. The moment was ripe for a climax.
Instead, we got nap time. First, a chair was brought onto the court for alumna Bonnie Bernstein. Any time the emcee needs a chair for a presentation, you know something is wrong. Bernstein took her seat and began a “human timeline” ceremony that lasted an unbearable half an hour. Former Terps basketball players from decades ago lined up, stretching around three-quarters of the court, and each received an individual introductory paragraph.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s nice to honor our history. But the never-ending timeline was a stunningly tone-deaf approach. On a Friday night after a full week of classes, the last thing any college student wants to sit through is another lecture. The reflective glow of smartphones visible throughout Cole during the ceremony made that very clear.
Still, it’s easy to criticize and nitpick individual flaws. So let’s be constructive: How can we make this a better event? Part of the reason I felt so passionate about writing this column is because fixing Maryland Madness wouldn’t be hard or costly — all it would take is common sense.
The first fix: slimming down. Maryland Madness has no business being three hours long. Families with kids want to go home on the early side, and students want to go out and get drunk. Let’s do away with ceremonies like the “human timeline,” midcourt interviews with random alumni and students unscrambling Juan Dixon’s name. Without the fluff, we’d be left with performances from the cheerleaders and Gymkana, dances from the basketball teams, introductions for the teams and three scrimmages. Filling the time between those events with the fun historical videos and interviews shown on Friday would do the trick.
The second fix: adding some much-needed personality. The night’s three scrimmages were absolutely lifeless. Simple changes could elevate them to something special.
The most obvious change is music. During the games, Cole was disturbingly quiet. Silence can be a virtue, but it has no place at a college basketball pep rally. The Mighty Sound of Maryland should be playing throughout, pumping up the crowd. Katy Perry’s “Roar” should be blasting from the speakers, encouraging a sing-along.
In fact, any kind of noise would benefit the scrimmages. Give two of the funniest players a microphone so we can hear them talking trash. Or find a charismatic student to announce the game, providing some commentary and harmless insults. Just do something to keep the crowd engaged in an otherwise half-hearted scrimmage.
Student apathy has been a hot topic lately on the campus, with Scott Van Pelt accusing Maryland students of “home-field indifference.” But students were not to blame for the deflated atmosphere at Maryland Madness. In fact, the sold-out crowd brought a much-needed boost of spirit — filling Cole early, cheering loudly and providing standing ovations whenever necessary to honor Terps past and present.
The athletic department demonstrated true creativity when deciding to hold the event in Cole this year — next year they should use that same creativity to plan a better night.
Adam Offitzer is a senior journalism major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.