Area schools beef up preseason basketball events

Last March, it seemed as though D.C. was a hotbed for men’s college basketball.

Three District-area universities qualified for the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament, and this year, those three schools have taken different approaches to their Midnight Madness celebrations: one is being televised by ESPN, one is beefing up entertainment and one axed the event.

George Mason nabbed national television coverage with ESPNU, Georgetown added a slew of games and giveaways and GW, as of Wednesday afternoon, has no concrete plans for an event. The University canceled Colonials Invasion, GW’s Midnight Madness-type annual event, as part of $900,000 in cuts from the SASS budget.

Nicole Macchione-Early, the director of Student and Academic Support Services creative communication, said University officials will meet Thursday to discuss possibilities for a preseason celebration. Most universities’ celebrations are about one week away.

Frank Dale, the president of the Colonial Army student spirit organization, said University officials have told him that GW is planning something for November, but plans are not finalized.

Early said officials will discuss the possibility of student organizations chipping in to pay for a portion of the event.

“I just don’t know where the funding would come from,” Macchione-Early said.

Some area universities consider a preseason introductory event as good exposure for the university and its athletic departments. Some GW officials have a different opinion and say the event is costly and not well-attended by people outside the University community.

George Mason, seven months removed from a Final Four appearance, will offer a laser light show and grand introduction to its men’s and women’s basketball teams Oct. 13 at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va.

George Mason and its Colonial Athletic Association officials said they consider Midnight Madness an integral part of promoting the university and its athletic department. GW officials differ and say that students enjoy the event, but it is too costly.

Maureen Nasser, George Mason’s assistant athletic director for media relations, said the Virginia university was planning the event before ESPNU expressed interest in broadcasting from the Patriot Center. The event, Nasser said, is important exposure for the school and its athletic department.

“It’s great opportunity for the university and athletic program,” Nasser said. “Just like any kind of exposure we got during the Final Four, this is the same idea.”

The event, which will include an introduction to Mason’s basketball teams, will cost the university about $20,000, Nasser said.

The television arrangement was brokered through the CAA, Nasser said. Ron Bertovich, the deputy commissioner for basketball, said ESPNU’s broadcast is a great promotional tool.

“Madness has grown into a such a big spectacle, but it’s a good opportunity for (Mason) to take advantage,” Bertovich said.

Georgetown will add a rock-climbing wall, video games, free food and giveaways to its Oct. 13 event, according to the student newspaper The Hoya.

GW officials have sung a different tune when it comes to the preseason event. Jack Kvancz, GW’s director of athletics, said he is not in favor of an entertainment spectacle, but plans to open a practice for a low-key introduction to the men’s and women’s squad.

Bob Zurfluh, an assistant athletic director for marketing and promotion, said ESPN approached GW last season to broadcast Colonials Invasion but the deal fell through.

The University is lukewarm about a large-scale introductory event, Zurfluh said.

“Overall, it’s been good for the students,” Zurfluh said “We’ve received a smattering of the public. The students came out, and it’s been good for the students, but it’s tough to get the public out.”

GW held the event at midnight until 2003, when they moved it to an earlier time to draw more fans.

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