P.T. Barnum may have billed his traveling circus “The Greatest Show on Earth” 140 years ago, but in this month in Lawrenceville, the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Rider University are the star attraction “Under the Big Top.”
An annual rite of October, Midnight MAACness will hit Alumni Gymnasium on the night of Friday, October 15, when NCAA regulations allows Division I basketball program to hit the hardwood for the first time to open practice for the 2010-11 season. Each year, the Student Government Association, the Athletics Office, Office of Campus Life and the Student Entertainment Council provide food, live entertainment, free giveaways, and spirit-filled activities. This year’s theme is Under the Big Top.
What began some 40 years ago as a way for college coaches to begin working out their squads as soon as possible has become a celebration of college basketball. These days, every basketball fan knows Midnight Madness as the hoopla surrounding the official start of the college basketball season. The event is now the ultimate pep rally and team promotion. Midnight Madness has evolved into a tradition shared by hoops fans nationwide.
In the 1990s, following Rider’s move to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, or MAAC, the event was dubbed “Midnight MAACness.” Since then, buoyed by a distinct yearly theme, the event has become one of the most popular and highly anticipated events at the Lawrenceville campus.
“We have tried to become more and more elaborate each year, and the students have really responded to it,” said Karin Torchia, associate director of Athletics and senior woman administrator, who directs the event “We used to invite the general public but it has gotten so popular that we have had to limit it strictly to Rider students and staff, and even with that there is barely enough room in the gym to hold it.”
Previous Midnight MAACness themes have included “MAACaritaville,” featuring a laid-back, calypso-music feel, and “Fright Night,” when the event happened to fall on a Friday the 13th and the Athletics Hall of Fame area was transformed into a haunted graveyard.
One year Alumni Gym, home of the Broncs, turned into the “Broncs’ Zoo” for “Midnight MAACness Goes Bronc Wild,” with opponents’ animal mascots getting involved. MAACness even took on a Hollywood theme one year with “Lights, Camera, MAACtion.”
More recently, the event has spilled beyond the confines of Alumni Gym, such as in 2008, when the Campus Mall took on the feel of a renaissance fair for “Midnight MAACness Goes Medieval.”
“Midnight MAACness is the perfect way to kick off the basketball season,” said Rider head men’s basketball coach Tommy Dempsey. “The whole campus comes alive at the start of basketball season and that makes our kids feel special. The support we receive from the campus community is unbelievable.”
Festivities included performances by the cheerleaders and dance team, introduction of the men’s and women’s basketball teams and much more. On-the-court events typically include team introductions, a 3-point shootout, a highlight video from last season, performances by the cheerleaders and dance team, and the always popular slam-dunk contest.
“Midnight MAACness is an event that brings the entire campus together,” said head women’s basketball coach Lynn Milligan. “The energy, support and excitement that encompass the night is electric. Our team and entire program look forward to the night and are thankful for the time and effort that everyone puts into the success of MAACness.”