Not long ago, a driver passing by the Schottenstein Center on Lane Ave. on the eve of a big Buckeye basketball game would be treated to the sight of a small village of brightly colored nylon inhabiting the sidewalks outside Ohio State's home arena.
Rain, sleet, snow or shine, students would pitch tents in Mattaritaville — named affectionately after the now-former Ohio State head coach — for what was sometimes multiple nights before a game to ensure themselves front-row, courtside tickets in the NutHouse student section.
The tents first arrived during the 2011-12 season when the Buckeyes hosted Duke. A few students camped on the sidewalk outside of the Schottenstein Center the night before the game to get front row tickets to the blockbuster battle. The tradition grew over the next few years and at one during the 2012-13 season, Mattaritaville had 135 residents in 35 tents the night before Ohio State took on Indiana, with the first tents arriving nearly a week in advance.
The tent town got so big, a few of the students decided to make it an official student organization. With the right paperwork and the help of one Mattaritaville's founders, Cody Crowther, who a student employee in the Schottenstein Event Services Department at the time, the tent town took off.
Crowther worked with his supervisors at the Schottenstein Center to make sure students had access to power outlets and bathrooms inside the building and used the Twitter account to help coordinate food deliveries to campers and spread information.
For a few years, Mattaritaville was popping. Students would wait outside gates of the Schottenstein Center for days, essentially holding a multi-day tailgate. There was cornhole, beer, music, "Mattaritas," and almost always some sort of food item being delivered by someone wishing to show their support — the alumni association, the coaching staff, former associate athletic director Ben Jay or even the school's head IT guy. A few coaches and players would even make appearances to show their support to the students who often camped in sub-zero temperatures.
"All it takes is one person to go out and set up a tent for a big game for it to start to grow again."– Jake Johnson
That's all changed, though. The past few years, Mattaritaville has been a ghost town. The Buckeyes haven't made the NCAA Tournament in two seasons, finished in the bottom half of the Big Ten and haven't really had a quality home win or a true star player since D'Angelo Russell. Students aren't even filling the student section, much less are they camping in sub-freezing temperatures for good seats.
With the hiring of Chris Holtmann, though, there's a renewed sense of optimism for the Buckeye basketball program. For the first time in years, it feels like Ohio State has felt a boost in recruiting and has a bright future ahead of it. Buckeye basketball fans hope Holtmann is the guy to bring Ohio State back to national prominence, and when that happens, the veterans of Mattaritaville hope the tents come back to the Schott.
"I would like to hope that Mattaritaville will be back with a vengeance once the team picks back up again," said Jake Johnson, the first official president of Mattaritaville. "I’m incredibly optimistic of our team’s future under Coach Holtmann, and with that success, I think we will see the demand for those prime front-row seats grow once again."
While the front-row seats undoubtedly provide a great view of the action, it also gives students a unique opportunity to interact with opposing players, coaches and referees, which led to some great memories.
Rob Barbush, a Mattaritaville veteran, recalled times when Tom Izzo admitted to him that he should have taken the Cleveland Cavaliers coaching job and audibly cursed to himself when he and his friends brought up his Werner Ladder dance. He also remembered a time when Mark Turgeon handed him his clipboard to draw up a play and another when he stole Tom Crean's diet coke from the table in front of him.
100 RTs and I take Tom Creans diet coke pic.twitter.com/fi5iMd5d5e
— Rob Barbush (@Bush_84) January 25, 2015
— Rob Barbush (@Bush_84) January 25, 2015
"Two of my friends even convinced Ted Valentine that Aaron Craft got a halftime buzzer beater off in time when he clearly didn't," Barbush recalled. "That kind of stuff doesn't happen if you show up at 6:45 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game and sit in the seventh row. That only happens in Mattaritaville."
Barbush, Crowther and Johnson all want to see that culture continue. But with nearly everybody who's ever slept in Mattaritaville now graduated, the sidewalk veterans say it's now up to a current student to keep that tradition alive.
"It does make me nervous that the core of Mattaritaville from its prime has all graduated, as very few people still in school now were around to see the camping at its peak," Johnson said. "But all it takes is one person to go out and set up a tent for a big game for it to start to grow again."
While none of them will be camping again, the three of them each offered to answer any questions of any student who wants to take initiative and revive the tent community, and are in search of a student whom they will give the Twitter account. In addition, Johnson pledged to be one of the first to deliver food to whoever shows up with a tent this coming season — even if the team still isn't great.
"I think the take-away that I want current students to know about Mattaritaville is that the experience is about so much more than just getting the front row seats," Johnson said. "To be honest, I camped for a ton of games that I could have gotten there the day-of and been fine, it was just that fun. Camping outside of the Schott for all those basketball games gave me some of my best memories from college"
As far as the name, Barbush, Johnson and Crowther got together and decided on a slight change.
"The three of us decided to give it a subtle change and rename it 'Mannaritaville,'" Crowther said. "We wanted to make sure it paid homage to its roots and the great teams Coach Matta built, but it also needs to be focused on the future with Coach Holtmann."