Bookstore Basketball

Bookstore B-Ball Tournament Finals
The Basketball Bible (The King James Brogan Version) lists 3 virtues: faith, hope, and the greatest of these, the charity stripe.  If you like Hoosier Hysteria, you’ll love An Tostal’s Bookstore B-Ball tourney.  It’s a single elimination tourney with the finals being played on Frivolous Friday.  A lot of the all-star players (including Chuck Taylor) are already conversing about what type of shoes to wear. — 1972 An Tostal Program

The Notre Dame Bookstore Basketball Tournament began in the spring of 1972 as part of An Tostal.  Organized by students Vince  Meconi and Fritz Hoefer, the first tournament only drew 53 teams, but it became an instant classic.  Inspired by standard pick-up game rules, the structure of Bookstore Basketball has changed slightly over the years, but the spirit of competition remains true to its core after all these year.

Bookstore Basketball game scenes with fans on the roof of the old South Quad bookstore, c1970s
Bookstore Basketball game scene with fans on the roof of the old South Quad Bookstore, c1970s.  During the 1977 finals, the number of spectators on the roof of the Bookstore caused the roof to cave in.  The finals were then moved to courts behind the Joyce Center to accommodate the crowds with bleachers.  After Rolfs Aquatic Center was built, the finals were move to Stepan Courts in 1984.  The finals are currently played on the courts by the new Bookstore.

Bookstore Basketball is a single-elimination, student-run, outdoor tournament, drawing hundreds of five-person teams.  The games are played to 21 points and early rounds are self-refereed.  In 1983, 512 teams competed and the Guinness Book of World Records deemed it the largest five-on-five outdoor basketball tournament in the world, a title Bookstore Basketball still touts today as the number of teams continues to grow past 700.

The tournament’s name, coined by alumnus Jimmy Brogan, is derived from the courts behind the old South Quad Bookstore, now occupied by the Coleman Morse Center, not from any involvement from the Hammes Bookstore.  The courts were also a parking lot, so they came with particular hazards – from manhole covers to standing water.  With the popularity of Bookstore Basketball, it was only natural that courts accompany the new Hammes Bookstore when it opened in 1998.  To accommodate all of the teams, games play day or night, in all weather – sunshine, pouring rain, or under a blanket of snow.

Observer article regarding registration for the first annual Bookstore Basketball Tournament, 1972
Observer article regarding registration for the first annual Bookstore Basketball Tournament, April 10, 1972

Athletic abilities vary widely among the teams, from varsity athletes to players who have barely picked up a ball.  For many teams, Bookstore is all about the creativity and potential notoriety of team names and costumes.  Crazy team names have always been an important part of Bookstore Basketball.  Usual themes among the names are puns, innuendos, trash-talk, self-deprecation, celebrities, and current events.  The following is a selection of names over the years:

  • One Guy, Another Guy, and Three Other Guys
  • Dolly Parton and the Bosom Buddies
  • Hoops I Did It Again
  • 5 Guys Even Dick Vitale Wouldn’t Watch Play Basketball
  • We’re Short but Slow
  • 5 Girls Who Got Cut from the Cheerleading Squad
  • Bobby Knight & the Chair Throwers
  • Picked Last in Gym Class
  • Unlike Tiger Our Rebounds Don’t Text Back
  • Weapons of Mass Seduction
  • Time-Out, I’ve Lost My Pants
  • We Make the Ladys Gaga
  • By George, We’re Good This Year

Every year teams push the envelope of the names.  The student commissions were originally responsible for censoring anything potentially offensive and were generally vigilant about the policy.  However, some names have slipped by the censors over the years.

See Mary Beth Sterling’s book on the history of Bookstore Basketball to see the full listing of teams from 1972-1992.  More recently, student Scott Frano has written a guide to choosing a name, with examples from the 2013 tournament for ND Today.  The full listing of teams and seeds for the current year can be found on the Bookstore Basketball website.

The idea of costumes for teams probably came from the Jocks vs. Girls basketball games played during An Tostal in the 1970s.  The members of the men’s varsity basketball team would play a team from Saint Mary’s College while wearing boxing gloves to help level the playing field.  Some years the jocks add to the ensemble – “various dresses, hats, false boobs, aprons, jock straps, and whatever else Chris ‘Hawk’ Stevens and his cohorts could find to don in order to further entertain the crowd” [Sterling, pages 12-13].

Bookstore Basketball Game Scene - Tom Keely's Team, 2002/0415
Bookstore Basketball Game Scene – Bootney League All Stars vs. Cuidado Piso Mojado, 2002/0415.  The members of Cuidado wore large cardboard caution signs on their backs, which proved difficult to defend against, but also difficult to maneuver.  The All Stars easily won the first-round game 21-1.

Bookstore Basketball is open to the students, faculty, and staff of the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College, and Holy Cross College.  Women compete in the tournament alongside the men, but there is also a separate women’s bracket, which was established in 1978.  Notable members of the administration, faculty, and staff have participated with as much gusto as the students.  University President at the time, Rev. Edward “Monk” Malloy fielded the team All the President’s Men.

In 1978, Rick Telander wrote an article on Bookstore Basketball for Sports Illustrated, giving the tournament national coverage.  The idea of a such a tournament piqued the interest of a number of other colleges and universities.  The coverage also drew the attention of the NCAA, which declared that current basketball players were ineligible to play Bookstore Basketball because of its competitive nature.  Notre Dame protested the ban of student-athletes from participating in a student-organized event, but were eventually unsuccessful.  Since 1979, varsity basketball players could only compete if their eligibility had expired or if they hadn’t dressed for the season. Bookstore rules only allows one varsity basketball player per team.  Football players can only number three, unless mixed with a basketball player, in which case a team can only have one of each.

Bookstore Basketball Game with Football Coach Lou Holtz and player Tim Brown on outdoor courts, April 1987
Bookstore Basketball Game with Football Coach Lou Holtz and player Tim Brown, April 1987

While it may seem unfair to compete against varsity athletes, many students welcome the challenge.  As alumnus Ken Tysiac recounts, “I think most students, if given the choice between losing by two points to some no-names and losing by 20 to LaPhonso Ellis’ club, would choose the latter.  It gives them something to remember the tournament by, and maybe something to tell their grandchildren” [Sterling, page 9].  Besides competing with campus celebrity, here’s also the thrill of potentially defeating a team with varsity athletes and coaches.  While teams that reach the finals tend to have varsity athletes, a number of championship teams had no varsity athletes on the roster.

Since 1995, Bookstore Basketball has partnered with the Notre Dame Alumni Club of Jamaica to raise money for Jumpball.  Jumpball aims to teach fundamental life-lessons to children of Jamaica through the game of basketball.

Notre Dame Magazine
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GPHR 35m/10475

Look out for the Manhole Cover: A History of Notre Dame’s Bookstore Basketball Tournament, by Mary Beth Sterling

“Look out for the Manhole Cover,” by Rick Telander, Sports Illustrated, 05/15/1978

“Bookstore Basketball XXXI: Crazy Costumes Take the Court, All Stars drive through road signs on way to victory” by Kerry Smith, The Observer, 04/16/2002

“How to Name Your Bookstore Team,” by Scott Frano, ND Today

“That Would Make an Excellent Team Name,” by Rick Reilly, ESPNMagazine, 03/27/2010

“The Censored List,” run by Carroll Hall alumni