Come along and experience Bubbleville in Uncasville
Mohegan — How I spent my Wednesday: Bubbleville in Uncasville. Bubbleville: in the clever words of The Day's Brian Hallenbeck: "the audacious, self-contained, audience-free college basketball extravaganza."
My first trip to Neon Uncasville in nine months. It was, to use the old "Laugh In" gag from Arte Johnson: "verrrrry interrrrresting." Come along for the experience:
• I arrive a little after 6 for the Rhode Island/Arizona State game. Park without incident. (First floor, too.) Mask? Check. Hand sanitizer? Check. I walk to the entrance and encounter four people with their masks off smoking. Dr. Oz would have been annoyed. Still, we're all good at something. And these people could smoke, puffing frantically as though this was last heater before the firing squad.
One guy, mask down, began coughing as if he'd just gotten too close to the campfire. Not too many germs filtering about there at least. God help us.
• I walk into the casino to find a surprising number of people in there. You know. Pandemic and all. Alarming number of little kids. Now I have my warts as a dad. But I'm reasonably sure I wouldn't have my 10-year-old walking throughout a casino in a pandemic. I mean ... what is the matter with some of you people? Can't stay home and play Scrabble?
• Parenthetical observation: There was a craps table open. I love craps. Once, a woman stood next to the late, great Humphrey Scott during a craps game. She asked him if he could possibly roll a nine. He said, "lady, I can't make a nine with a pencil."
• I approach the arena. Media credential guy is Will Visiglio, who played football at Valley Regional/Old Lyme. Will was wearing his state championship ring. We talked about the recent reinstatement of football coach Tim King, who was nearly railroaded. Nice guy, that Will.
• The arena concourse, normally awash in an inimitable rattle and hum, was eerily silent. I paused. There will come a day when the people return. But I'll never be there again without remembering this creepy, hollow vibe of utter silence.
• Media seating was in a skybox. Socially distanced. Quiet. Unlike most press boxes where all us gasbags pontificate and postulate. Lousy vantage point for basketball. We're usually courtside where we can see and hear things television cameras can't and don't. Half the fun of UConn games was what Geno and Jim would say or do next. Now? We're closer to God than God Shammgod.
• Rhody-ASU was hijacked by hideous officiating. A total of 81 free throws, 55 fouls, four foul-outs and two technicals. Some marriages don't last as long as this game did. Dear refs: The kids have had about 20 minutes of practice. You needn't call everything. Rhody had four players with three fouls apiece in the first half. Absurd.
• Then there was this: With 6:07 left in a three-point game, Rhode Island had possession at the basket opposite ASU's bench. ASU coach Bob Hurley was, admittedly, standing outside the coaching box but was neither coaching his players nor yelling at the officials. He was simply standing there, mask on. One of the officials took his eye off the play and had to look behind him to see Hurley. He immediately halted play and issued Hurley a technical.
In a three-point game. At the opposite end of the floor. Sorry. That's bad officiating. It merited a warning at best.
• I cannot yet discuss BC's loss to Villanova.
• So you know: Excellent work here from Dave Martinelli, Mohegan Sun's chief marketing officer, and the rest of the gang in Bubbleville. This is a massive experiment. Teams are practicing in the Expo Center, staying at the Sky Tower hotel and eating in the convention center. There is no other exposure to the casino.
Per Hallenbeck's recent story, all team personnel must submit to nasal-swab PCR tests for COVID-19 upon arriving and before every game. There are contact tracing and exit protocols in place. With everyone involved, including TV production crews and Mohegan Sun staff, the total Bubbleville population was expected to swell to about 400 people.
• Here's one to ponder: If Bubbleville works, it wouldn't shock me to see Mohegan Sun become a player in the 2021 NCAA women's tournament. NCAA officials recently moved the entire men's tournament to greater Indianapolis. I'm not saying the whole women's thing could happen at Mohegan, but a chunk of it could. There's hotel space, a safe environment and ample accommodations for television.
• Long, quiet and eerie walk to the car after the games. Around midnight. I see people strolling into the casino. I wanted to be home in my jammies. What a long, strange night. On a long, strange trip.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
Stories that may interest you
The Wildcats, picked to win the Big East in the league's preseason poll, last played on Dec. 23.
BU program unwilling to help shed light on masks and basketball
Football, wrestling have more in common than they realize.