10 Quirky College Basketball Traditions
Editor & Writer
Editor & Writer
With March Madness right around the corner, what better time to explore the wackier side of college basketball — the zany arena antics perpetrated by generations of students and alumni, elaborate sideshows that have become as integral to the game as the slam dunk?
(Disclaimer/Spoiler: Loyola University superfan Sister Jean is neither wacky nor zany, but you get the point.)
Behold these 10 enduring hoops traditions found on campuses across our fair nation.
Duke University's Krzyzewskiville and Cameron Crazies
Duke students are a bit nuts, at least when it comes to basketball. How else do you explain spending weeks — weeks! — in tents enduring freezing temperatures, sleep deprivation, dysentery, and pestilence (OK, maybe not dysentery), all for the opportunity to get good seats at the UNC-Chapel Hill rivalry game? Welcome to "Krzyzewskiville," a campus shantytown named for famed coach Mike Krzyzewski (pronounced "?"), who led the team from 1980-2022.
Once inside the arena, these "Cameron Crazies" continue the mayhem with obnoxious chants aimed at opposing players and coaches. Legend has it these little (blue) devils originated the "air ball!" taunt that continues to haunt visiting players in basketball arenas nationwide.
Indiana University's "Greatest Timeout in College Basketball"
Who doesn't love a good timeout? If you're an Indiana Hoosiers fan, there's at least one to celebrate. Early in the second half of home games at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, named for the legendary Norwegian skrei fisherman (not really), the crowd stands, cheerleaders gather on the court waving banners, and the pep band plays the "William Tell Overture," followed by "Indiana, Our Indiana," the school's fight song.
It's quite the spectacle, one not without inherent dangers.
"The cheerleaders get the most nervous …," IU head cheerleading coach Julie Horine said, "making sure that they don't run into each other when crisscrossing the flags."
John Brown University's "Toilet Paper" Game
Indiana may have the best timeout, but John Brown University arguably has the best technical foul. After the first basket of the first home game at Bill George Arena on the Arkansas campus, students toss thousands of rolls of toilet paper onto the court, halting the game while cleanup crews collect the Charmin, and affording the visiting team two subsequent free throws.
If you thought buying toilet paper was tough during the pandemic, good luck scoring some at the Siloam Springs Walmart the following day.
Loyola University's Sister Jean
A tradition since 1919, Jean Dolores Schmidt — known affectionately as "Sister Jean" — has been a staple at Loyola basketball games since becoming team chaplain in 1994. Now a spry 103 years old, Sister Jean gained national fame as Loyola's No. 1 fan during the team's Final Four run in 2018.
Her new memoir, optimistically titled "Wake Up With Purpose!: What I've Learned in My First 100 Years," comes out just in time for this year's tournament. Unfortunately, it won't include the Ramblers, who, currently at 9-17, don't have a prayer.
University of Kansas "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk" Chant
During home games at Allen Fieldhouse, University of Kansas fans join together in the singing of the school's alma mater, which is followed by a monotone chant of "Rock…Chalk…Jay-Hawk."
Originally intoned as "Rah, Rah, Jayhawk, KU," when it debuted in 1886 — predating the invention of basketball by some five years — it later became "rock chalk" in recognition of the limestone found on campus. That stone is known as "chalk rock," but evidently "rock chalk" rhymes better with "Jayhawk."
Taylor University's "Silent Night" Game
Since 1997, students at Taylor University, a Christian liberal arts institution in Indiana, have taken a vow of silence on the Friday before finals. That is, until the basketball team scores its 10th point. Then all hell breaks loose.
Adorned in crazy costumes and awash in body paint, students storm the court and engage in all forms of merriment and mirthfulness. Later that evening, they offer a rousing rendition of "Silent Night" to mark the occasion.
This silent treatment apparently spooks visiting teams, which have lost 24 of the 25 zipped-lipped contests.
Saint Joseph's University Hawk
Scientists at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia have discovered the world's first perpetual motion machine, and it's causing quite a flap. It exists in the form of the school's mascot, the Hawk, which continues to flap its wings throughout the game. Nonstop. Even during halftime and bathroom breaks.
Domenic Godshall, a former Hawk mascot, claims he once flapped 6,100 times during a game but never left the ground. Triple-overtime games have rendered fellow Hawk mascots flightless for weeks.
Originated in 1954, the Hawk was once named the "best college basketball tradition" by the NCAA.
San Diego State University's "The Show"
Rowdy fans are commonplace in college basketball, but students at San Diego State take it to a new level. Dubbed "The Show," the student section — conveniently located directly behind the visiting team's bench — screams, chants, waves, and stomps hard enough to trigger tremors along the San Andreas fault.
These ardent Azteks take credit for inventing "giant head" cutouts that bemuse and bewilder opposing players attempting free throws.
University of Pittsburgh's "Oakland Zoo"
Feral fans at Pitt constitute the rambunctious student section known as the "Oakland Zoo," which is not to be confused with the, you know, Oakland Zoo. This Oakland is the neighborhood in Pittsburgh where the university resides. There's also an Oakland University in Michigan, but we digress.
Pitt students have been known to don animalistic garb, attending games as bears, lions, and, presumably, panthers. Like the Dukies, Pitties camp out well in advance of games to ensure favorable spots in their habitat.
University of North Carolina's Franklin Street Rush
At most universities, students rush fraternities and sororities. But at UNC, they rush to the middle of the street. Following momentous victories, UNC students flock en masse to the intersection of Franklin and Columbia to revel in their collective hysteria.
Once there, these madcap Tar Heels climb poles and trees, chant fight songs, blare their tunes, and torch the occasional couch, according to Evan Castillo, a UNC alum and fellow BestColleges writer who was on hand for last year's victory celebration when UNC beat archrival Duke in the Final Four, setting off a congratulatory conflagration that consumed countless loveseats and Barcaloungers.
"Literally one of the best nights of my life," he said.