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Jimmy V Classic

December 17, 2002 Columns No Comments

The Jimmy V Classic – It’s Come a Long Way, Baby

by Adam Shandler

It was December of 1997.

I was a budding sports/newscaster at a small, 1,000-watt station in Pompton Lakes, NJ. To placate our listeners and advertisers, we’d offer them everything from Off-Off-Broadway show tickets to free meal certificates at the local catering hall — the one that hosted Thursday afternoon Kiwanis Club luncheons.

In early December, our sales department somehow scored a batch of tickets to this three-year-old college basketball event called the Jimmy V. Classic. I thought, “Free tickets to a college hoops event in Jersey? How can I miss this?” The bill featured Princeton taking on Wake Forest, followed by my childhood favorite Seton Hall and Clemson. ESPN, the cosponsor of the event, was televising the games nationally, there were some local teams involved, and it was an event to raise awareness and money for cancer research. So naturally I figured lines to get into the Continental Airlines Arena parking lot would be out to the Turnpike and you wouldn’t be able to find an empty seat in the house.

Oh, my naiveté!

My dad and I breezed into the parking lot and parked almost to the curb of the arena. When we found our seats, we looked out and saw nothing but a sea of burnt orange — and we’re not talking about Princeton and Clemson fans decked out in their school colors. These were the colors of seats. The Princeton-Wake game was early, so I sat back and waited for the Seton Hallers and scattered Clemson folk to file in later.

They never did, and my dad and I upgraded our seats so close to the action that we could read the inside tag on the official scorer’s referee shirt.

It was an embarrassment. To Jimmy V and to cancer research.

I later learned that sales for this event were, as imagined, emaciated. ESPN ended up buying the remainder of the unsold tickets, donating many to charitable organizations and radio stations like mine for giveaways.

But The V Foundation and ESPN clearly anticipated this losing battle with bringing fans into the arena, for at halftime of the Seton Hall-Clemson game, color man Dick Vitale came out to center court and addressed the fans.

“Next year, there shouldn’t be an empty seat in the house,” the bold, bombastic broadcaster told us. Us being my dad and me.

“Why, Dickie V?” I muttered to myself (although he easily could have heard me with the lack of crowd noise). “Are you bringing in Monmouth and Rider to play some lower echelon ACC schools next year?” I was a bit of an obnoxious brat back then. Now I am just obnoxious.

Vitale went on to say that for the 1998 Classic, fans would be treated to Duke and Kentucky, and Purdue and South Carolina. There was a low roar, but that is exactly what the small gathering (and the tens watching at home) wanted to hear.

You see, college basketball fans, as magnanimous and philanthropic as they might be, still need to be sold what they love. The charity business, which has become big business due to all the competition, needs to come up with more creative and eye-catching events to reign in followers and, more importantly, dollars.

While fans may not know that they are directly making a donation to the Jimmy V. Fund with their ticket purchase, they still want to be incentivized to make that donation. They want something in return, and in the case of the Jimmy V. Classic, that return is a high-level, high quality of college basketball.

The Jimmy V Foundation and ESPN learned this the hard way on December 19, 1997.

Since that night, both factions have put together some really good fight cards for this event. And while the scores may be a little lopsided, at least the teams participating are of the highest caliber. In some of the better, more recent matchups, Indiana and North Carolina went elbow-to-elbow in 1999 in a game where the Hoosiers were the victors, 82-73. Last year, Duke scraped by Kentucky in overtime, 95-92 and Alabama took a 70-67 win from Temple.

This year, the foundation didn’t slouch on bringing us voracious hoops fans a basketball feast. N.C. State, Valvano’s old team and one that is busting down the door of the Hoopville Top 25, faces Top 25 in-and-outer Gonzaga. In the 9:00 feature, it’s Number 3 Oregon battling Cincinnati. The Bearcats should have a whole new complexion with a svelter B.J. Grove returning to the team. The 6-11 center was pushing three bills but may have gotten his weight down to 270, a Huggins-required criterion.

So far, the Jimmy V. Basketball Classic has raised nearly $450,000 to help fund cancer research. That’s just the men’s basketball classic. Other successful signature events include a women’s college basketball classic and a Jimmy V. Golf Classic.

All this would have Jimmy V. “laughing, crying and thinking” — the heroic coach’s prescription for living a full day.


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