If you were one of the 50,000+ that read yesterday’s post on the NCAA committee flip-flopping Kansas and Duke’s brackets (to Duke’s benefit), you know that I’ve already asked (in writing) how the NCAA, while working under the assumption that the entire country believes there to be a Duke bias, can give the third-overall #1 seed an easier road to the Final Four than the first overall #1? Amongst those 50K must’ve been Kansas City Star writer Jason Whitlock, who says the answer’s simple: People watch Duke – either out of love or disgust – and the NCAA is smack dab in the middle of contract negotiations for its tournament with CBS and ESPN, and they really, really need this one to have big numbers.
NCAA basketball’s numbers have gone down over the last few years, and while I always assumed Duke must be ratings gold to TV Networks – I mean, they’re always on – I had no idea of the extent to which that’s true. Everyone knows that Indiana State-Michigan State, Bird-Magic duel is the highest-rated college basketball game ever, but did you know that after that, 1992’s Duke-Michigan game in second, and 1994’s Duke-Arkansas final is fourth? Really? If nothing else, this shows us how much race and the perception of race play a role in the way we watch sports. Duke is, obviously, the whitest team ever (both then and now), and both Michigan and Arkansas weren’t just good teams, they were good temas that were diametrically opposed to Duke in every way, shape, form, and color. They were uber-athletic and urban, the antithesis of Duke in terms of raw talent and playing style.
Aside from that, it also tells us that Duke is, as much as anyone else in college basketball, America’s Team. If nothing else, they get a strong opinion out of everyone. You either love Duke or you hate ’em. There’s never any in-between. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone that doesn’t either a) call Duke his or her favorite team or b) list Duke as one of his three least-favorite teams in the nation. I’ve always thought it’d be interesting to take a survey of people all over the country, asking them to list their three least-favorite college basketball programs. I think Duke would win going away, then probably either North Carolina or Kentucky. After that, it gets tougher to predict. Kansas? Nah, they’re dominant, but not really unlikeable. Indiana? People hate Bob Knight, but there’s an entire decade-and-a-half’s worth of kids who don’t associate Knight with IU the way older sports fans do. Plus, it’s been so long since the Hoosiers have been worth a shit. UConn? Memphis? UCLA? I’d love to find out.
But back to Duke. Why is it that people hate them? Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman discussed this in their last podcast, with Klosterman essentially making the case that Duke’s “whiteness” makes people hate them more. I’d call this a partial-truth. Yeah, Duke is very white, but it goes deeper than that. Duke isn’t just white, it’s fraternity-guy white. It’s country-club white. Basically, it’s spoiled-rich-kid white – and there’s nothing Average Joes hate more than that. That’s why people can’t stand them.
Gonzaga is a team comprised largely of white players, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they hate them. Florida’s had more than its share over the years, and – outside of Kentucky – people loved those teams.
On top of that, you can’t discount Coach K. Nor can you completely write off the arrogance with which they play. They all have a swagger – where it originates, I have no idea – that irritates me, and I’m guessing plenty of others, to all end. Plus they flop.
PLUS, as much as I hate to admit this…they’re good. That has as much to do with it as anything, because, really, all the other stuff would be moot if they weren’t a good program.
Just not good enough to have one of the easiest roads ever to the Final Four.