By Kay Hawes, Director of Marketing and Public Relations
It's been called "the best technical foul in sports," and it's unlike most other college traditions you've ever seen. Even the name doesn't really do it justice, as "The Toilet Paper Game" doesn't sound all that exciting.
But alumni and fans of John Brown University (Ark.) know this tradition is as exciting and memorable as it is unusual, and a number of major media outlets agree that it's one of the best traditions in college basketball.
Golden Eagle fans, many of them decked out in blue and gold body paint, launch thousands of rolls of toilet paper onto the floor after the first made basket in the first home men's basketball game of the season. This was the 32nd year for the tradition, which puts John Brown and its 2,100 students in Siloam Springs on SportsCenter or CNN each year. The Golden Eagles do receive a technical foul for the tradition, but it's all in good fun with opponents and officials warned ahead of time.
Allowing their opponent two early free throws once a year doesn't bother John Brown coach Clark Sheehy because the event is so significant for his program. And, his team has typically overcome both the free throws and the disruption and fed on the spirited crowd's enthusiasm to win the game itself.
"This is my sixth year coaching at John Brown, and the tradition has gotten bigger and bigger each season," Sheehy said. "What our players look forward to and what I look forward to is a lot of energy and excitement from the fans. It's just a fun, fun night. I think it's one of the greatest traditions in college sports."
Even the opponents understand the power of a great tradition. Hillsdale Freewill Baptist (Okla.) has volunteered to be John Brown's opponent at this game for the past five seasons.
"I guess we're the sacrificial lamb, but I don't mind because it creates a tradition for us to be part of a game like that," Hillsdale coach Eric Wright told Yahoo Sports. "I even use it as a recruiting tool. We play in a historic game. The kids will go look it up on YouTube and they're just like, 'wow.' They know what's coming."
The beginnings of the Toilet Paper Game are a bit of a mystery as former coaches and athletics administrators differ on how it all started. At some point, students were discouraged from participating (and from breaking into storage closets to pilfer their supplies). But about 15 years ago, university administrators shifted their perspective when several attended a conference highlighting how alumni remember collegiate traditions fondly.
Thus, the era of the official Toilet Paper Game was born, with John Brown student life department employees distributing rolls of toilet paper to fans, setting up recycling bins to collect it all and even creating halftime games for fans to demonstrate their aim with a roll of toilet paper. This year, John Brown even produced an ESPN-like commercial promoting the game.
Clark Sheely's father John, who coached at John Brown for 18 years, said the administration's shift made all the difference.
"The biggest reason it's grown so much is that the administration embraced it and said, 'Let's make this a fun even for our students' as opposed to saying, 'Boy, we need to stop this," John Sheely told Yahoo Sports. "At that point, it really took off, and now it's one of the finest small college traditions I know of."
The Golden Eagles did win the game, overcoming a four-point halftime deficit to finish with a 65-48 victory over Hillsdale Free Will Baptist.
This year, it was Abel Galliguez's three-pointer, falling just 34 seconds into the game, that prompted the raucous crowd to let the toilet paper fly.
"It's a privilege and honor, I think, to make that shot," said Galliguez. "What a great way to start my senior year, giving fans the opportunity to throw the toilet paper."