But for this generation YouTube clips on an arena screen seem much more of the moment, and Rutgers appears to be one of the few schools to deploy such curated, psychological warfare.
Its impact is unclear. Rutgers is 1-2 (including an upset of Seton Hall) since employing its pregame antics in December, but at least they’re able to laugh about it.
“Everyone is so sensitive about everything. This stuff is supposed to be fun,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said. “The fact that the N.B.A. has more fun than college is disturbing. They can enjoy what’s going on around them and then lock into what they’re supposed to do. The college guys certainly can do it, too.”
Seton Hall officials declined to comment on the Mr. Trololo video. Stony Brook and Hartford, Rutgers’ most recent opponents subjected to bizarre clips, did not respond to a request for comment.
Some see gamesmanship, sportsmanship and humor as a strange mix. The idea of tricks, however benign, to rattle rivals “seems antithetical to hosting someone, to the roots of competition to strive together,” said Jack Bowen, author of the book “Sport, Ethics and Leadership.”
But he had to admit, it’s funny.
“There is something clever in what they’re doing,” Bowen said. “On one hand I like it; it’s not in your face. It’s not doing anything explicitly wrong. It’s the kind of things that millennials will say, ‘Wow, that is an awesome way to throw these people off.’”
The videos do resonate with the intended audience.
“We’re the first generation to grow up with YouTube,” said Jordan Cohen, a Rutgers senior who recorded the Mr. Trololo moment and tweeted it.
The idea for the pregame distractions arose from a bit of one-upsmanship. During Rutgers’ warm-ups at Minnesota in early December, the Gophers played songs such as the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men.”
“We heard some ridiculous songs and we were like, ‘We can do better than that,’” Greengarten said. Four members of the athletic staff, including two twentysomethings, compiled a list of silly YouTube clips for pregame deployment.
In Rutgers’ next game, against Stony Brook, a clip of “Dominick the Donkey” — Hey, chingedy ching, hee haw, hee haw/It’s Dominick, the donkey — appeared on screen as Stony Brook warmed up. A video of the Village People’s “Go West” followed, but was cut short when Rutgers players emerged from their locker room for pregame introductions. (The Scarlet Knights warm up to a selection of hip-hop music.)
Nowadays, it’s hard for Greengarten and the video crew to walk through the Scarlet Knights’ athletic offices without staff members suggesting some random yodeling video.
Amid the monotony of loading the routine items on the video board such as player introductions or advertising spots, there is now a little opportunity for creativity.
And given the outer reaches of online absurdity, the list of possibilities is long. Greengarten has put 100 suggestions on a list, categorized under genres like “Songs That Make No Sense” (see “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” sung by Leonard Nimoy.) Under “Funny Sounds/Videos,” the “Whistler Mullet Guy” looms large.
Against Hartford, in the hours before the game, Colin Osborne, the production director, and Tim DeMartin, the production coordinator, scrolled through clips on their control system.
At first I was afraid/I was petrified …
“Gloria Gaynor and disco roller skates, come on,” Osborne said of the video for “I Will Survive,” but ultimately it didn’t make the cut.
“Pennsylvania Polka,” performed by cast members of “The Lawrence Welk Show,” did. Hartford players paused their pregame passing drills and stared at the video board as it segued into the “Brady Bunch” kids singing “It’s a Sunshine Day.”
The effect of this mash-up was fleeting. The Rutgers team sprinted onto the court, and Cindy Brady disappeared into the pixelated ether. The pep band led the “R-U, Rah-Rah” cheer of the school’s fight song.
Rutgers fell short, losing 60-58. In an otherwise forgettable performance, the oompah of a polka stood out as a highlight.