Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why People Hate Duke

There was some discussion on the local sports talk radio station today about why Duke has been cast as the "villain" in this year's Final Four. The Christian Laettner foot-stomp incident was brought up and laughed off, and various and sundry other thoughts, but really, I think they missed the point.

Badly.

You see, by all rights I should be a Duke fan. Until Boston College joined the ACC (and for all of you locals bitching about how BC doesn't belong in the conference, it's actually closer to, you know, the Atlantic Coast than Duke. Or NC State. Or Wake Forest. Or Georgia Tech. Or Virginia. Or...you get the idea.) it was the most "northern" school in the conference, a plucky little bastion of higher learning with a tiny enrollment who somehow managed to beat the big boys at their own game. And that's exactly the sort of thing that should make Duke endearing.

Only they're not. I find I loathe Duke in a way I loathe few other schools, but it took until today to figure out why.

It's not that Duke's the "villains" of the piece. The Blue Devils aren't bullies, not in the way Tark the Shark's UNLV teams were. They're not openly flouting rules or being brutes or aggressively trying to intimidate anyone, Coach K's dark suits be damned.

No, the thing is precisely that they're not bullies. They're the spoiled rich kids. They're Draco Malfoy, the weasels who get everyone else in trouble and then turn into angels the second the grownups turn around. Watch a Duke player, any Duke player, when they get a foul called on them. It's always the same - the histrionics, the hands to the side of the head, the mouth wide open in Macaulay-Culkin-ese fake shock, the "Aww, you're kidding me!" that blind lipreaders beyond the orbit of Mimas could read. When the ref's not looking, they elbow and hook and shove with the worst of 'em. When the ref is looking, they flop and overact and do their best to get the other guy - the Harry Potters of the hardwood, as it were - in trouble. Seriously. I've seen video games with ragdoll physics less impressive than what J.J. Reddick used to do when someone got within five feet of him.

That's why Duke is so hateable. Because all of us, in school, knew a Duke. We all knew a kid who tormented and teased and bullied when the teacher wasn't looking, and who used their parents or their older brother or their willingness to clean erasers to magically avoid the trouble the rest of us caught double. We'll probably never see those kids again. But we will see their likenesses, their avatars, their nationally televised equivalents. We will see them in blue and white, and we will boo them heartily.

It won't change a thing. It certainly won't retroactively balance the scales of schoolyard injustice. But man, it'll feel good.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dear Fans Who Felt Your Team Should Stay Home Rather Than Play In A Secondary Postseason Tournament:

Shut the hell up.

If you are really fans, you want the following:
For your team to play more games so you can watch more games.
For your team to play more games so you can watch players you presumably root for a little longer before they move on.
For your team to play more games so the school can make more money and provide better facilities, etc. for the team, which will then theoretically do better next year.
For your team to play more games so young players can get more time and get that much of a leg up on next year.
Did I mention "for your team to play more games so they can hopefully win more and you can cheer them on?" You know, that whole fan thing?

There are lots of good reasons for a team to participate in any post-season play offered to it. Any one of them outweighs idiot fan pride at a season that wasn't quite up to their replica jersey- wearing standards.

I say let the kids play. And everyone else can deal.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March Madness: Weekend 1

Possibly the most amusing thing I heard this weekend was some guy swearing that President Obama had gotten on the horn and used his power to force the refs to make calls against Robert Morris, in order to protect the sanctity of the Presidential Bracket.

Seriously. You can't make this stuff up.

Unfortunately, you don't need to make up some of the other blithering that goes on around this time of year. Now that the dust has settled on all the whining about seeding - and let's face it, if they got it perfectly right, the angry Joe Lunardis of the world would be out of luck and out of work because their primary role is to complain about these bits of floating nonsense - it's time for all-new inanity to take over. The major throughline today seemed to be focused not on Kentucky's new status as the overall favorite or the remarkable runs by teams like Cornell and UNI, but rather that "having so many low seeds advance was bad for the tournament". Because, you know, nobody was going to watch a Sweet 16 game that didn't have the big names in it. Xavier's made the second weekend for something like thirty-seven years in a row? Doesn't matter. Cornell's a ridiculously good story - revenge of the nerds, "after this, nothing but babies and memories", the first Ivy to go this far since the days of Bird and Magic - but it doesn't matter. St. Mary's avenging last year's snub and Purdue overcoming the loss of Robbie Hummel (yes, I picked Siena in round 1) and Washington's sneaky-good run and...naah, not important. What matters is that the big names - UConn, UNC, Kansas, etc. aren't there.

Now, there are two lessons to be taken from this. One, it would have been relatively easy for those missing big names to be there. All they had to do was do what they were supposed to: win games. Sorry, the tournament is supposed to be about putting the best teams together, not the best ratings. That's what the BCS is for, after all.

The other lesson is that the mainstream sports media guys bitching and moaning about how the games aren't interesting now are doing themselves and their readers/listeners/viewers a disservice. UNI's played some pretty entertaining games. So has Purdue. So have the bulk of the surviving teams, marquee or otherwise. The smart play would be to seize the opportunity, talk up these new teams, and hopefully build nationwide interest in more teams going forward. The idiotic play is to bitch about how the tournament's no good without Carolina in it, discourage people from watching (because a game with Xavier in it can't possibly be interesting), and moan about the ratings. None of which, of course, has anything to do with the actual games, but all of which reinforces college basketball's insane football-driven caste system.

If I were running a station and one of my guys moaned about this stuff, I'd rip him a new one. Getting people interested in this stuff is better for fandom and better for business. Whining is the easy way out. I'd rather have them tell me what's exciting about what's coming up, instead of complaining that the easy story lines are gone.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Random Spring Training Thought...

For all of the geshrying over the Phillies' trade of Cliff Lee for a 1967 Chrysler Aumont* and some spare parts, there's a vague hint of a whiff of suspicion that it might not have been the stupidest idea ever. Throwing at a guy's head in a spring training game - no, correction, at a backup catcher's head - is monumentally knuckleheaded. We're talking "Tommy Greene might have thought it was a good idea" dumb. Getting suspended five games to start the season when you're supposed to be one of the two lead sled dogs for your team, the prize off-season acquisition that's going to get the team off to a fast start, is just plain stupid. Sure, suspending starting pitchers is a lot like criminal sentencing for white-collar criminals - a lot less harsh than it seems - but even so, it's a hell of an idiotic precedent to be setting.
And so the sneaking suspicion remains. If he's doing something this Jersey Shore-ish to start the season, what happens next?
Maybe, just maybe, Cliff Lee was too big of a knucklehead for Philadelphia. And that, my friends, is a scary thought.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Give the NCAA Committee Credit

Their seedings are ludicrous, but the fact that the last couple of guys in included Utah State and UTEP over the easy choices of power conference pretenders Mississippi State and Virginia Tech. Mind you, both those teams are set up to get hammered in the first round, but 5-12 upsets are the annoying relatives of March Madness: they keep on popping up, year after year.

Comparative Analysis

The baseball equivalent of the Brady Quinn trade - first round flop traded off by new regime in exchange for serviceable spare part - is probably "Bill Pulsipher for Mike Kinkade".

And if you remember that one, you can see why I'm so utterly unimpressed with the hysteria over this one.
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