Pittsburgh Sports Report
November 2003

Media Savvy
Midnight Madless
By Alby Oxenreiter

If you blinked, you probably missed it. I'm here to tell you that you didn't miss much.

Midnight Madness is nothing to write home about. In fact, it's nothing to write about - period.

According to college hoops lore, Midnight Madness is the brainchild of college basketball legend Lefty Driesell . In 1971, the Maryland basketball coach invented a men's basketball promotional event so students and fans of the Terrapins could watch Lefty's team run its customary mile around the football field. It stuck.

The annual event falls at midnight on the first day the NCAA approves team workouts. In many college towns, it's a wild way to start the season. But in Pittsburgh , it's: at best : the most overrated annual "event" on a busy sports calendar.

It might be a hot ticket in Lawrence or East Lansing , but not here. Maybe if we lived in Durham , Raleigh or Winston-Salem : but we don't. I-279 is not exactly Tobacco Road.

Let's face it, autumn weekends in Pittsburgh revolve around a lot of things, but college basketball is not one of them. The Steelers: and everything they do or don't do: dominate the local scene. The Pitt football team and their star receiver's much-deserved Heisman attention help round out page one of the sports section. The Penguins' 18-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury has given hockey a boost in town. Then there was the wall-to-wall coverage of the Cubs and Red Sox and their futile attempts to end postseason curses. We haven't even started talking about the decline of Penn State football, and whether or not Joe Paterno should get on with his life's work.

All of this is why, at least locally, the annual tip-off to the college basketball season came with very little attention or fanfare. Granted, there were thousands of college students jumping on the Midnight Madness wagon and jamming into the Peterson Events Center , but the kids don't count. Have you ever known a college student not ready for a party?

Pittsburgh 's as good a college basketball town as any city its size, and you won't find many empty seats this season at the Pete. But compared to Lawrence , East Lansing or Tobacco Road, there are many other things to see and do in Pittsburgh .

That's not to say that there's any shortage of hot topics surrounding the local basketball programs. Pitt's new coach Jamie Dixon is, by all accounts, the perfect choice to continue the Panthers' momentum. Pitt returns six of its top nine players from the team bumped off by Marquette in the Sweet Sixteen eight months ago. Julius Page, now Pitt's senior leader and the city's most exciting hoop star, is well worth the price of admission.

A few miles and turns down Forbes Avenue , the heat will be turned up on Duquesne's third-year coach, Danny Nee, a true professional and a likeable guy. Things have been bleak on the Bluff for many years, and the clock is ticking as Nee takes his turn at turning the program around.

But the two major local basketball stories can wait. There's a time and a place for everything, and as the leaves and the temperatures fall, fans in Pittsburgh have other sports issues to ponder.

I love college basketball: the frenzy that comes with a late-season win, the excitement of conference tournament week, Selection Sunday with fans clinging to their brackets like overdue paychecks. There's absolutely nothing like the first day of the NCAA tournament: sick days, office pools, upsets. The madness is worth the wait. Better late than never.

I'll take March over Midnight any day of the week.

Alby Oxenreiter is sports director for WPGH-TV Fox 53.

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