Ok…you are going to have to really give me some latitude here as I convey a conversation I had with my brother last week. Eventually, I will have a point and it is more about a problem I see in North Carolina as a whole, not just when it comes to sports – though that is a big part of it.
So some background…my younger brother is a huge Tar Heels fan – since birth, he says. My parents are not, my other siblings are apathetic to sports in general, and of course, I rail against UNC. Problem is, he never went to school there, never applied. Not a season ticket holder, doesn’t live in proximity to the university and has no true connections – no relatives went there and honestly, I cannot recall a time he even attended a game live. His love for UNC evolved from being a few towns over from Laney High School and Michael Jordan’s rise to UNC fame… and then was reinforced by winning/association with winning.
In general, I subscribe to a principle that you need to have a connection to a team to be a true fan. I think that bandwagon-ism should be left to professional teams…there it is acceptable to buy a jersey and cheer for “your team” till death do you part or till they are not good, at which point, you buy the jersey of the most recent championship team and adopt them. But college is different…there needs to be some of the fan’s own blood, sweat, and tears in the game IMO.
So anyhow, we had a talk about the NCAA tournament and UNC and why I think it is a travesty that this team is even allowed to play at all given its 3 decades of cheating to keep players eligible. His summary, like many other fans I’ve encountered, was basically that he separates the basketball team from the school and that the cheating is merely a distraction. What he really “loves” about UNC is the quality of basketball. He is a purist, he contends. But when I asked him if he would love the team equally if they were disassociated with the school and played as, say, the “Chapel Hill Area Tar Heels.” Hell no…not palatable, which is the response I get from many of the people I know who “love their Tar Heels.”
Everyone instantly goes to the idea that the players should be paid, that they need a cut, that it is unfair…WRONG. Collegiate athletes are and should always be amateurs. We all so desperately want our college sports teams that we refuse to acknowledge that little obstacle that college presents – the academics of it. Why not just admit that the NBA and the NFL have long colluded with colleges to maintain high-dollar minor league systems so they do not have to? To “fix” the problem of “fixing” collegiate sports, we all need to pony up a big serving of honesty and allow the five-star athletes who do not have the goods to get into or complete an academic program (given the rigors of the sport they play) to have a direct path to the big leagues?
It is effing insulting to everyone else who has actually worked to get a degree. Look, consider Bill Gates the 5 star recruit in the IT world. He didn’t need to go to college because he had the techno-geek goods…so he dropped out of Harvard after two years and never went back. HOWEVER, his company, Microsoft, requires a minimum of a 4-year college degree for most of its career track positions. The 5 star guy only needs college because the system is rigged to the benefit of adults who want to make money and brag about their associated greatness and professional leagues who want to hedge their investments by getting at least a year of a look at a player.
I also asked my brother if he would stick with “his Tar Heels” if they were suddenly to start being middle of the pack or worse. After some pushing he admitted that he would probably lose interest. His honesty is a rare thing…I push many of my non-graduate Tar Heel loving friends on this same point, but they refuse to fess up.
The cheating fueled the success at UNC. Even last night’s championship, which many of my Tar Heel friends are pointing out came with players who didn’t benefit from AFAM fake classes (oddly they acknowledge the cheating then to protect – in their minds at least – this team now), was fueled by the cheating. These players are not at UNC if not for the tradition of winning that was built on the backs (carefully phrased here) of players who could not stay eligible under the requirements for all other students. The entire tradition at UNC is built on a lie and hence, any success that has been gained has been obtained unfairly. But we live in a society now that values having the bling regardless of how you got the bling. There was a day, I believe, when you would never have seen a person like President Obama hanging out with a person like Jay Z, but now if you have the trophy, you are seen as legitimate. In other words, as Johnny Dangerously said, “Remember kid, crime doesn’t pay. …Well, it paid a little.”
And in UNC’s case, it has paid a lot…of money. Tons of it to a lot of people.
My final conversation with my brother was asking him if he felt a little ripped off given this disproportionate amount of state monies that go to UNC. He is afterall a North Carolinian who should have been entitled to equal benefits at the UNC system school of his choice. He never thought of that, he said.
Which leads me to the bigger issue as I see it with this whole UNC thing. It is awful that the UNC administration, faculty, and student body are doing and rationalizing anything to protect its sports brand – no matter how much damage it does the university itself, but to witness the Board of Trustees, the Board of Governors, and the N.C. government doing the same is God-awful frightening and illustrative of issues that North Carolinians have to face every day – just ask any of the teachers in NC what life is like. And seemingly, are large number of people in the state are ok with it because it involves their beloved Tar Heels. Does the North Carolina collective mindset need so badly to associate with a winner that it will bow to this type of behavior to get it? If that is the case, it is SAD.
There should be no question in the matter IMO. It shouldn’t require the NCAA – equally if not more corrupt than UNC – to dole out a righteous punishment. The State Government, the BOG and the BOT should tear that university sports brand apart and correct/prevent it from ever doing this again. And yes, the deconstruction of the UNC sports brand should be followed by a comprehensive look at EVERY UNC SYSTEM school to ensure it doesn’t manifest there. In this UNC case, the elder leaders of the state’s oversight entities unfortunately are mimicking the same behavior not correcting it. They too suffer, in general, from a desperate need to maintain affinity with their school and their way of being.
IN this case, we had a UNC-alum DA dismiss criminal charges so that key corroborators in the scheme would testify…really? Wouldn’t a criminal case get that and more…why do this? How can the BOT justify anyone involved with this case getting pay outs or retirements or the like? How is it that UNC’s basketball coach is the state’s HIGHEST PAID EMPLOYEE who gets bonused on collective GPAs and graduation rates, yet has no oversight requirement? Even the reversal on HB2 appears driven by sports revenue – specifically UNC sports. What the eff is going on with these elected officials and appointees putting their love for a particular college ahead of their obligation to do right by all of the citizens of the state? From the outside looking in it seems very sad, desperate, pathetic, and embarrassing…the state leadership looks like a bunch of clowns and are reinforcing the view that southern states operate on a good-ole boy basis and where money can buy you out of anything. And this is sad, because I know how many people across the state are disgusted and embarrassed as well, not to mention being directly, negatively impacted by this mess.
I must say that I was encouraged by the massive number of media outlets who have been contextualizing this UNC championship in relation to the scandal. Perhaps the NCAA will be forced to act in a way that lives up to the crime. In North Carolina (and on the UNC-alumni TV network ESPN), the press has been vilified for daring to push the story, but elsewhere, media have continue to keep pressure on the NCAA to do what is right.
I am a displaced North Carolinian in Pennsylvania. I can tell you that locally here, when the Penn State case hit, the only complaints I heard in regards to the case were that criminal proceedings were taking place and that the case DID NOT TOUCH on eligibility; hence, the NCAA really did not have jurisdiction. The punishment was doled out in courtrooms – as it should have been. But the corrupt NCAA jumped in and punished the program severely…and the case had nothing to do with paid athletes, eligibility, etc. That was the complaint. People here wanted the coaches strung up and were sorely disappointed in Joe Pa’s seeming unawareness of what was going on. PSU students I know were embarrassed and the administration was swept out.
Not so at UNC.
I spoke to my brother today… and he is basking in the joy of another UNC championship – “their 5th” he pointed out. Told me he was wearing his UNC gear to work too…gotta get in the bragging.
I hope that everyone who is defending UNC actions are sporting their gear and enjoying the rush of victory and the fun of jabbing everyone else…God knows they did everything possible to get that title. Huckleberry Hound will reach Dean demigod status I am sure. Maybe even our Tar Heel loving basketball players here at ECU will improve their games for having witnessed the championship earned by their beloved Heels.
Hopefully, those in the state who are equally disgusted will finally receive some justice…though none should hold their breath. Hopefully, those brave souls in the N.C. government who have tried against the powerful tide to inject some reason and sanity into the discussion don’t give up. Hopefully, those on UNC’s campus who are disgusted by this will continue to voice their opinions even at their own risk. Hopefully, some of those who are fighting so hard to avoid correcting this will have a change of heart and do the right thing. Hopefully, the press will continue to push the story and not allow UNC and the NCAA off the hook. There is a lot to hope for.
For me, I tend to skirt the topic when my friends ask me about UNC because it embarrasses me that I hail from a state that so values success on the collegiate basketball court or football field more than fairness, education, and focus on the betterment of all of its people…even my brother.