Ole Miss Basketball Game – Oxford, MS
We’re headed to the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans at the end of March, so why would we include a regular season game on our itinerary?
Because college basketball is more than just the tournament.
While the drama is never short during a tournament game, they’re usually played at a neutral location. But as we’ve seen throughout our journey, local fans are the lifeblood of sports teams. And nowhere is that more evident than with college sports, as we saw in Boise St. and Nebraska. College sports fans don’t just buy tickets, wear school gear, and eat concessions. Often times they’ve also paid the school tuition money, participated in a fundraising auction, or just flat out gave the school money. When was the last time you just gave money to your favorite professional sports team?
Unless you’re a Green Bay Packers fan, the answer is probably never.
But the connection between college sports fans and their universities runs deep. There’s history involved. Generations may have gone to the same school. Parents have saved for 18 years to send their child to a university. Others may have worked their way through college. Financial and emotional investment in colleges and their sports teams is hard to beat.
College campus also reside inside of a bubble. Campus life is different than “real life”. Students operate on an entirely different schedule, campuses often have their own rules, like speed limits and parking rules, as well as their own police units. They have their own languages or “lingo” at times, and even create their own version of time on the space time continuum (“Michigan Time” was 10 minutes after the hour. So 10:00 AM was really 10:10 AM in “Michigan Time”).
And college sports operate within that campus bubble. When you cross the proverbial threshold of campus, you’re now a part of that new world. All other affiliations stop, and you’re fully immersed in the school, the history, and the atmosphere. You’re a part of all of the cheers, the hand signals, and the chants. Each school may be different, but they all create a unique environment within their respective bubbles.
Which brings us to the Tad Smith Coliseum on the University of Mississippi’s (Ole Miss) campus.
We both love the game of basketball. We’ve written a little bit about the game’s history, as well as showed you its unique place in the hearts of Native Americans at the Lakota Nation Invitational. But the game of basketball made it big on the courts of college campuses. College basketball predates the NBA by nearly 50 years, and it’s on the college level where many basketball fans believe the game is at its “purest”. Rules such as player control fouls, travelling, and discontinued dribble are still strictly enforced on the college level, even though they’ve been largely overlooked on at the pro level over the years.
While the Ole Miss Rebels basketball team is not necessarily a traditional basketball powerhouse, the university itself has been in the news in recent years. Alumni such as two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, Michael Oher, the subject of the award winning book and film The Blind Side, as well as his adoptive parents Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy (who we saw at the game supporting their team), have brought Ole Miss into the national spotlight. And as we saw with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, Ole Miss has recently gone through a mascot change.
Colonel Reb, a confederate soldier who also resembles a stereotypical plantation owner, was Ole Miss’ printed mascot starting in the 1940s before officially suiting up and onto the field in traditional mascot form in 1979. Because of the racial connotations of having a confederate solider as their mascot, the university decided to remove the mascot from the field and disassociate itself from its use in 2003. In 2010 the student body voted to replace Colonel Reb with Rebel, The Black Bear, based on the legend that President Teddy Roosevelt refused to kill a bound black bear in Mississippi.
So inside the Ole Miss bubble is where we found ourselves, with its history, rules, traditions, and new mascot. We drove 18 mph (Archie Manning’s number) through campus, saw the famed Grove where tailgating is taken to a whole new level during football season, and mingled with students who literally painted themselves with school pride. We heard the fight song, watched the cheerleaders (who were one of the best groups we’ve ever seen, by the way) and cheered along to “Hotty Toddy”.
As for the game itself, it had everything you would want for a college basketball game. Back and forth scoring, runs by each team, great defensive plays, and pure three-point shots. The Rebels used the crowd to their advantage, whipping them into a frenzy during a great second half run that saw them hold on to a 61-54 victory over the Auburn Tigers. The win also bolstered the Rebels’ NCAA Tournament chances, as a couple of wins to close out the season could see them into the tournament.
But the tournament is a month away, so for now it’s all about that campus bubble. We love what’s inside, no matter what college campus we’re on. But here in Oxford, both the view and the atmosphere are fantastic. It reminded us of our own nostalgic campus sphere back in Ann Arbor. The great thing about the college bubble is that it never really bursts. They might grow and expand, with new buildings, hospitals, streets, and stadiums. But you never really leave. You still follow the sports teams, admire the academic or research accolades, and yes even give money from time to time. And on gamedays, it’s always great to be back inside of that bubble.