ND’s full-court blast too much for this fan

I went to the Notre Dame men’s basketball opener against Niagara and a loud, high-tech variety show broke out.

It’s been a while since I’ve attended a college basketball game. In my adolescence, I made regular trips to the men’s games at the Athletic and Convocation Center with my church youth group. That was the Digger Phelps era with players like Kelly Tripucka, Rich Branning,  Bill Laimbeer and Orlando Woolridge. I distinctly remember Woolridge palming a ball in each hand and then dunking them in quick succession during warmups.

During college in the 1980s, I went to almost every Indiana University men’s home game. I have not been in Assembly Hall since the late 1980s. It has undergone significant renovations since then.

I remember the ACC (later the Joyce Center) being a bit of a dump in the late 1970s, with its worn down yellow and blue fabric seats in the lower bowl and screechy bleachers rimming the top. It too has undergone upgrades. The bleachers are no more. The arena’s name has changed to Purcell Pavilion.

There’s a new coach for the Notre Dame men’s team for the first time in twenty-three years. Mike Brey wore out his welcome several seasons ago and had the grizzled look to prove it by the end. The Micah Shrewsberry hire created a buzz around South Bend for several reasons. He has local roots. His teams at Penn State, his previous employer, shot three-pointers like they’re the first and only option. And, maybe most importantly, he’s not Mike Brey.

A longtime friend invited me and two others to the Irish opener. After clearing the metal detectors (there was none of that in the 1970s and 1980s, not even for rock concerts), my friends and I climbed the stairs and were greeted by a giant video display complete with a booming sound system.

The loud music was emanating from a court-side DJ booth called “Shrew’s Crew” complete with a scratch turntable in front of the pep band. Personally, I’d rather hear the pep band, but I’m an old-timer.

With the house lights turned down, the player intros were accompanied by on-court green fog dispensers emblazoned with the ND logo.

The Irish trailed the visitors for most of the first half. To my eye, it seemed like Coach Shrewsberry spent most of the timeouts “working” the officials rather than coaching his team. Maybe that was because with the loud music and videos playing, his team probably couldn’t hear anything that was being said in the huddle.

There was “entertainment” during almost every timeout. Foam balls were flung into the crowd. A video of a groundhog singing the “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” was a favorite with the kids in attendance. There was a person with a microphone wandering the crowd conducting silly contests and asking inane questions.

There was a bagpiper performance, although I always thought bagpipes were more a Scottish tradition rather than Irish one. But it reminded me of a funny bagpipe joke (there are hundreds). What’s the difference between a bagpipe and an onion? No one cries when you chop up a bagpipe.

Halftime featured a performance by Irish step-dancers. I can’t recall if they danced in the shape of the ND insignia.

A video shown on the scoreboard during the second half posed quirky questions to Irish basketball players. A sample question was, if you had to choose eating your favorite food every day for the rest of your life, or never eating your favorite food again, which would you choose? Enquiring basketball fans waited anxiously for the answers.

What is all this non-basketball noise about? Have our cellphone-addled minds conditioned us to be constantly in need of engagement and stimulation? True, when I was at IU, at some point in the second half, the IU cheerleaders would race out on the court to the William Tell Overture. I remember seeing a lady maneuver herself through an unstrung tennis racquet during a Notre Dame halftime. And I’ve seen more than one enjoyable flying dog and Frisbee show. But when did anything more than some pep band music become the norm in so many arenas? What would Monk Malloy have thought about all this extraneous nonsense? How do the older fans feel about being bombarded with noise? 

Do teams think that this is the only way that they can attract a new generation of fans? I know minor league baseball parks are all about keeping the kids entertained with bouncy houses and splash pads. Why aren’t the games entertainment enough? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to converse with those around you?

The Irish did win the game, thanks to 29 points from freshman Markus Burton. Burton, a Penn High School graduate and reigning Mr. Basketball, was terrific, setting a Notre Dame record for most points scored by a freshman in his first home game. Why isn’t that reason enough for Notre Dame fans to get excited? For me, that was entertaining, and I’m not an Irish fan. A lot of the other stuff just detracts from the players who deserve our attention.

On the way out of Purcell Pavilion, the blue-blazered ushers were unfailingly polite. I just wish I could have heard what they were saying to us as we exited the arena. My ears were ringing from the “entertainment.”