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Sunday, April 23, 2006

After Midnight

posted by Mike Coffey
A man needs a little madness, or else he never dares cut the rope and be free.
Nikos Kazantzakis

I don't claim to be a marketing genius -- that's my sister's job. After all, she's the one who has to keep friends and respect after telling people she's related to me.

But working in a family business for a lot of summers has given me an idea or two about how to get people excited about a product. And one product on the "let's get people excited" list that jumps to mind immediately is Notre Dame basketball.

We've discussed the Joyce Center crowds, timeout advertisements, music selection and the like to death on the Pit the last couple of months. SBDomer's post covered that ground in great and quality detail, so I'm going to stay away from that and talk about something that bugged me last year.

Midnight Madness. Or should I say, the lack of any.

Thanks to the NCAA going against type and making a sensible rule change, schools can now start practice in the evening prior to the first allowed day rather than having to wait for the exact stroke of midnight. A lot of schools took advantage of that change, having 7pm events that plenty of families could attend.

ND, however, did not. And I found that frustrating, considering how packed the campus was that night. They had tens of thousands of people in the stadium for the Southern Cal pep rally, and tens of thousands more looking for something to do that Friday evening. A rollicking event might have been a good way to kick off the season. Fall Break or no, an opportunity was there and missed.

As always, I'm a solutions-oriented kind of guy. So here's my idea.

Looking at the football calendar, the Irish are off the weekend that encompasses October 15th, the traditional hoops start date. With Fall Break, an event to start the actual practice open would be, most likely, a bad idea.

But a weekend later, the UCLA Bruins make their first football trip to South Bend in 40 years. No school is intertwined in ND hoops lore more than UCLA, and here they are on campus on a trip unusual enough that it will probably attract a quality crowd.

That, my friends, is opportunity not only knocking but trying to kick the door in.

So why not have a traditional Midnight Madness hoops event to commemorate the UCLAns visit that Friday night after the pep rally? Invite the hoops alums back to campus, particularly guys like Austin Carr and Dwight Clay who have a special connection to UCLA. Have dunk and free-throw contests, a scrimmage, and let's see which player can do the best immitation of Mike Brey. See if you can get Bill Walton to come -- he and Digger can have a loudest-sportcoat-sudden-deathmatch, or maybe just stare at each other for an hour. Jim Harrick can do a run-in and hit Digger with a chair. Circus Maximus, indeed.

And most importantly, market the living bejesus out of it. Send notes to all the basketball season-ticket holders, and maybe let them in to a special event (e.g. autograph session) beforehand. Everyone who receives a football ticket to the UCLA football game should get a flyer in their envelope saying there's going to be this family-oriented event. Ads in the South Bend Tribune, on television, and on signs all over town and campus should be, at least, ubiquitous.

Sure, the crowd may end up small. But you don't know what's going to happen until you do it, and they really need to do this. Someone needs to grab the program by the scruff of the neck and swing it around a little bit. Get the blood flowing. Drop an ice cube down the back. Regardless of how the season ends, let's start this one with some noise and enthusiasm.

What's the worst that could happen?

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