To be perfectly truthful, we were hoping to see the University of Kentucky make the Final Four. Not because we had a large sum of money riding on the UK squad, but because the school has such a rich, tradition-filled history.
OK, it was because we had a large sum of money riding on UK.
But still, we'd envisioned being the only news source in town to dredge up the fact that in 1986, after the Lexington Herald Leader published a series of articles about improprieties in the Kentucky basketball program, the paper received bomb threats, the reporters received death threats, newspaper boxes were destroyed, and thousands of subscriptions were canceled. (The series won a Pulitzer Prize.)
Nestled in a strikingly flat cornfield on the outskirts of Champaign-Urbana (students call it Chambana), the University of Illinois is basically a sprawling farm with a lot of big brick buildings and a basketball arena that resembles an alien spacecraft. Which is somehow appropriate for a school that's the birthplace of the psychotic HAL 9000 supercomputer in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The land of the Fighting Illini, home to the oldest marching band, the largest Greek system and a basketball team that has never won the gold, also hosts an Insect Film Festival. For 22 years running! (This year's theme: "Bugs Solving Crimes -- Forensic Entomology.")
Student organizations are equipped with quaint names including the Hoof and Horn Club and the Intercollegiate Meats Judging Team, but the university's mascot, Chief Illiniwek, is scorned by the politically correct. Those same folks probably wouldn't appreciate the fact that the U of I boasts Hugh Hefner among its alums, a list that also includes Roger Ebert, Ang Lee and Dick Butkus. The young Hef, it should be noted, introduced the "Coed of the Month" feature during his stint at the campus' humor magazine. (Ellis E. Conklin)
In 1925 the University of Louisville moved to the site of a former orphanage, which just happened to be situated atop what used to be a graveyard. Nowadays the ashes of Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, are buried beneath the front porch of the law school. Far less trivially speaking, Derek Smith, a forward on Louisville's 1980 NCAA championship basketball team, is said to have invented the high five.
While fans at this school of 22,000 are often overshadowed by their rowdier rivals at the University of Kentucky, they don't seem to mind. "We certainly think of ourselves as committed, yet less rabid fans than UK," says school archivist Tom Owen. "We think of them as blind and unthinking." (The family of albino squirrels, which can be seen scurrying around campus like little apparitions, aren't rabid either.)
Be that as it may, the University of Louisville is ranked among the nation's top tailgating institutions. The cheerleading squad consistently captures national championships and a middle-aged man doing handstands on railings is a staple at basketball games. Freedom Hall security is apparently unconcerned with this ritual, and the man -- said to be a local hairdresser -- is a crowd favorite.
That might have something to do with the fact that bourbon is available for purchase during the games. (Ben Westhoff)
There are party schools, and then there's Michigan State. A benderiffic repository of kids who couldn't get into the University of Michigan, State is perhaps best symbolized by the legend surrounding the statue that stands in the middle of the school's East Lansing campus: a Spartan warrior, frozen for all eternity with a helmet obscuring his loins.
"If any girl graduates a virgin, his helmet will drop," one alumnus imparts, adding unnecessarily, "which speaks to the sluttiness of MSU girls."
It snows pretty much year-round in East Lansing -- inside and out. If the school's roster of multi-substance-abusing athletes (Chicago Bulls coach Scott Skiles and Rams backup quarterback Jeff Smoker come to mind) is any indication, partygoers looking to hitch a ride on the white highway this weekend need only seek out packs of obnoxious fans wearing forest-green sweatshirts.
Sadly, we might be living in the twilight of State's storied party status. Witness the death of the infamous CedarFest (a.k.a. CedarFight): Conceived in the late '70s by an apartment manager who just wanted to throw an intimate shindig for his residents, the gathering was hijacked and turned into a turbo-carnival of bottle throwing, pyrotechnics, fisticuffs and property damage along the banks of the Red Cedar River, which runs through campus. Alas, in the early Aughties authorities pulled the plug on the festivities. Even worse, Spartan students over age 21 are no longer permitted to carry open containers of liquor on campus with impunity. (Mike Seely)
University of North Carolina
If history is any indication, St. Louis may prove a favorable locale for the Tar Heels of UNC. The school's previous two national championships ('82 and '93) came in New Orleans, and both times legendary coach Dean Smith spit into the Mississippi River before the final game. Roy Williams would be well advised to follow his predecessor's lead and toss a loogie for good luck.
The Tar Heels boast a history rich in college-basketball lore, having produced the game's best player, Michael Jordan. Other famous alums: soccer phenom Mia Hamm, 'roid runner Marion Jones, Civil War historian Shelby Foote, ESPN broadcaster Stuart Scott, VP also-ran John Edwards and good ol' Andy Griffith.
While Chapel Hill might not be Mayberry, it's still oozing with genteel Southern grace. Like the traditions of setting fire to Franklin Street after a Tar Heel victory, peeing in the Old Well (which freshmen are told to drink out of to ensure good grades) and fornicating on the eighth floor of the Davis Library at least once before graduating.
A dubious tradition the school has yet to shake is its history of racism. Just last semester the chancellor eliminated an award honoring women's contributions to the university when it was discovered that the woman for whom the award was named was a white supremacist. Now the school is looking into the names of of its campus buildings, many of which are named after slave owners and Confederate sympathizers. Then again, what would you expect when the sports teams take their name from the proud North Carolina soldiers whose dedication to Southern ideals would not allow them to retreat from the advancing Union Army? According to lore, the soldiers' courage spurred their compatriots from other states to ask, "What, y'all got tar on yer heels?"
To which they responded, "Nah, we just stepped in shit." (Chad Garrison)