UKNow sat down with former Men’s Basketball Coach Joe B. Hall, who introduced UK to Big Blue Madness, for a history lesson on one of UK’s favorite traditions.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 18, 2013) — Going into the 1982-83 basketball season, head men’s basketball Coach Joe B. Hall wanted to get the UK student body excited for his team. It had been a few years since the team had won a national championship – four seasons to be exact – and he wanted the students to connect with this team, their team.
“It wasn't anything intelligent on my part,” Hall said. “It was simply to have a practice for the student body, kind of a humorous way to start the year's practice on the first allowable minute. The NCAA said you could start practice Oct. 15, so that meant at 12:01 a.m. you were legal to practice. The students like to have something to do at midnight that was legitimate, so we put notices in the [residence halls] and the classrooms that we were going to have an open practice for the students at midnight.”
The first Big Blue Madness, billed as “Midnight Special,” did not have all the glitz and glam that is now associated with UK’s first practice of the season.
“We had some little games set up for the students to participate, and so the night that we had our first Madness I think we drew about 8,500 students,” Hall said. “The word spread and it turned out to be so much fun and the students just absolutely loved it; I mean, anything students will do at midnight is fun. The day, the pressures of their classwork had worn off and it was just a great evening. It was stimulation for players, a way to kick off the season and the first practice with that kind of exhibition. It just proved to be really a lot of fun.”
So much fun that word quickly spread about UK’s midnight practice, and the following year fans, not just students, flocked to Memorial Coliseum to get a first glimpse at their Wildcats.
“I know the Committee of 101, a lot of their members and families came, and a lot of the faculty and staff brought their children, and people close to the players found out about it, and from then on, it became a regular thing that people look forward to and we drew bigger and bigger crowds,” Hall reflected.
In 1983, more than 10,000 fans filled Memorial Coliseum to see the eventual Final Four team featuring Sam Bowie, Melvin Turpin and Kenny “Sky” Walker. That was just the beginning of the tradition of capacity crowds filling venues to watch their Wildcats practice.
The fire marshal ordered the doors closed at 9:50 p.m. in 1986, leaving hundreds of fans outside while fans inside got their first look at “King Rex,” Rex Chapman. In 1989, fans were caught trying to sneak inside windows and any other opening they could find to get in Memorial Coliseum as Rick Pitino took over the reigns as head men’s basketball coach. In 1991, the doors closed after only 45 minutes of being open.
With more than 755 tents on campus for the 2013 Big Blue Madness ticket camp out, many fans believe that camping out for tickets is as old as the event itself. However, the tradition of camping out for Big Blue Madness tickets is not nearly as old as one might think. The first year UK saw fans camp out for Madness was in 1993. In 1994, a father and son pair camped for five days prior to Madness. However, Wildcat fan Wally Clark takes the record, camping for 38 days in 1996.
"It is becoming a tradition also to see who can be the first one in and get the better seats," Hall said. “It's not just to get in; it's to get the best seats. More than that, it is a support of Kentucky basketball and it is a measure of the people's fan support for the Wildcats. It's saying, 'Hey, this is really big. We're going to come early and get our tickets and be the first out there to camp out and make an effort to support the Cats.' That is a good thing."
Big Blue Madness, and events like it across the country, serves as a special part of the fan experience. For many fans, this is a rare opportunity to see the players in person in Rupp Arena, a move Big Blue Madness made in 2005 due to construction at Memorial Coliseum.
"It serves a nationwide purpose. It kicks off the basketball season all over the United States," Hall said. "Big Blue Madness, Midnight Madness, whatever you want to call it, whatever time you hold it, it's kind of like a celebration of the beginning of the season. Families with children can come and it indoctrinates those young people into a love for Kentucky basketball when normally, because of the price of tickets or the unavailability of tickets, they do not have the opportunity to come. They can get tickets for Big Blue Madness. So you get a lot of families, you get a lot of young kids that are very impressionable, and they develop their fan support for the Wildcats through that first meeting. And it's great in building fans at a young age."
Big Blue Madness is an event that is fun for fans of all ages, young and old, and this year promises to be the most interactive Madness yet! Fans attending the event Friday night are encouraged to download the FREE Wham City Lights app in the App Store or Android marketplace. During the event, video screens will prompt fans to open the app and participate in the crowd stunt.
Doors for Big Blue Madness open at 6 p.m. and the event will begin at 7:30 p.m.
For fans unable to make it to Rupp Arena, Big Blue Madness can be seen live on the UK IMG Sports Network. The event will be televised on a delayed basis on UK IMG Sports Network affiliates in Bowling Green (WBKO-FOX, 9 p.m. CT) and Evansville, Ind. (WTVW-TV, 12:30 a.m. CT).
Fox Sports South’s coverage of Big Blue Madness will be on a delayed basis, at 11 p.m. ET to the entire FS-South footprint.
UKathletics.com and ESPN3 will have a live stream of the event and ESPNU will have live segments from their whip-around "Midnight Madness" show from 9 p.m.-1 a.m.
To watch more excerpts from UKNow's interview with the legendary Joe B. Hall, click on the playlist below:
Information for this story has been gathered from UK Athletics media guide and Web archives as well as UK Athletics news articles. Special thanks to UK Athletics for video footage of past Big Blue Madness events. For more information about Big Blue Madness, contact UK Athletics Media Relations.