Archive for Tuesday, March 15, 1994

HOOPS HYSTERIA

March 15, 1994

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Among its claims to fame, Lawrence is the home of...

...Dr. James Naismith, the father of basketball.

...Phog Allen, the father of college basketball coaching.

...Randy Towner, the father of a college basketball trivia game.

Randy Towner???

Wait a minute. Isn't Towner the golf pro at Alvamar Country Club? Yep, one and the same.

What's going on here?

"I've always been a basketball fan," Towner said the other day, "and I've always loved Trivial Pursuit. I know, for instance, that Ted Cassidy -- remember Lurch on TV? -- played at Stetson."

Thus Towner and two friends, Jeff Sigler and Doug Vance, put on their thinking Stetsons and produced a table-top game that appeared on the national market last month.

It's called Hoop Hysteria.

"We wanted to call it March Madness, but we ran into trouble with the NCAA," Towner said.

Does the NCAA own the words March Madness?

"They don't, but they THINK they do," Towner said. "So we decided on Hoop Hysteria."

Almost exactly three years ago, Towner and Sigler, who is in the computer business, were in Louisville watching Kansas play in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"Jokingly, we said we needed to find some way to write off the cost of going to these tournaments," Towner said. "Then he and I decided to do this game the following New Year's Day. We made it a New Year's resolution. A year later we had the prototype back from the game company."

It's a simple game, really. You score points by answering questions about college basketball. Included with the game are a stand-alone scoreboard, a one-minute timer and a custom die that determines the play.

You won't find a game board and most certainly not a spinner.

"I've got three daughters," Towner said, "and every spinner we've ever had has been broken after a week."

Also in the game box are, of course, the guts of the game -- 400 trivia cards, each containing five questions.

That's 2,000 questions, a lot of questions.

Enter Vance, KU's assistant athletic director for media relations.

Currently president of the national sports information director's association (CoSida), Vance suggested that Towner write every NCAA Division One sports information director in the country -- all 301 of them -- and request basketball media guides.

Eventually those media guides began to arrive by mail at Towner's home, and soon thereafter it was time for Towner to go to work with Vance's assistance.

"I'd go over to his house at night and we'd pour over those guides trying to come up with trivia questions," Vance said. "It was work to come up with 2,000 questions."

Since Hoop Hysteria is aimed at a national market Towner and Vance tried to concentrate on the big picture, and fight the natural tendency to go heavy on Kansas tradition and lore.

"There are a lot of KU questions, but we were careful not to make this a Kansas game," Vance pointed out. "We made sure that all 301 schools have at least one question."

Echoed Towner: "We had to have a bunch of KU questions because of KU's tradition, but we didn't want someone from Missouri thinking there were 50 KU questions in there."

Each of the five questions is divided into three categories -- a fairly easy one worth a point, two difficult ones worth two points each and a couple of tough three-pointers.

"Coming up with decent questions wasn't that hard," Towner said. "The hard part was coming up with ones that won't be outdated. For instance, one asks what conference Texas Christian is in. We'll have to update that."

As far as marketing goes, Hoop Hysteria is still on the ground floor. It's available at selected vendors, including the KU Bookstore. The price is $24.95.

"We just got a nice order from the University of Virginia," Towner said. "We're also talking to Wal-Mart."

Towner also has some stacked in his office in the Alvamar CC pro shop.

"Some people have bought the game and had me autograph it," Towner said, smiling. "That's kind of unusual."

Perhaps those people were thinking that Hoop Hysteria will eventually become to the 90s what Trivial Pursuit was to the 80s.

If so, Towner and friends will gladly expand their coffers to accommodate the loot. But that's a might big if. Striking it rich in the game business isn't any different than playing the lottery. It's a crap shoot.

You can't win the lottery unless you buy a ticket and you can't hit the jackpot in the game business if you don't follow your dream.

"If you have something you want to do, do it," Towner said. "Like the pet rock. Hopefully, some day people will say, 'Why didn't I think of that?'"

Towner should know after next Christmas whether Hoop Hysteria is a rimless cord-cutter or backboard-jarring brick. By then the word-of-mouth factor will have determined its fate.

If it's a brick, well, as Towner says, "If someone wants to learn about college basketball, it's a fun way."

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