Itâ€™s as predictable as Raleighâ€™s spring pollen: Herb Sendekâ€™s basketball program does its annual swoon, and Big Sports Media does a full court protection press for its favorite no-threat-to-Duke-and-UNC coach.
Take Mr. Annoying himself, Dick Vitale. Dick was in full cry in this weekâ€™s column, in which he ranted:
Even worse is the criticism aimed at Herb Sendek. He has North Carolina State at 21-9 and headed to the NCAAs for the fifth consecutive year, a feat matched only by fellow ACC member Duke. The Wolfpack hit a rough spot late and were 10-6 in the ACC, but is this really something to get worked up over? Thank goodness the school administration is backing Sendek.
Four straight losses, including a double-digit thumping by our (purported) archrival at home, plus consecutive double-digit beatings from one of the worst teams in ACC history â€“ and itâ€™s a rough spot? Oneâ€™s reminded of the All Drug Olympics on Saturday Night Live a few years back: â€œâ€¦ And heâ€™s torn his arms off! What a setback for the big Russian! Iâ€™ll bet he feels that one in the morning, Rick!â€? A conference collapse, missing arms â€¦ these are nothing to get â€œworked up overâ€? for the king of Duke and UNC hyperbole. Just, you know, â€œsetbacks.â€?
And as Dick says, thank goodness the school administration is backing Sendek. Man, I feel better now. Lee Fowler knows best â€“ Sergeant Schultz is guarding Stalag 13, and we all know nothing bad can happen on his watch.
Dick Vitale, John Feinstein (his Washington Post screed this week called State fans â€œwhinersâ€? while paradoxically calling us a program in â€œdisarrayâ€?), and the rest of the nationâ€™s â€œBig Sportsâ€? media have as much interest in N.C. State winning championships as terrorists have in a democratic Middle East. Big Sports Media have a vested interest in championship programs remaining championship programs, because theyâ€™ve long ago achieved insider status in those programs. If the elite lose media interest, some Big Sports Media lose their meal tickets.
Feinstein, for example, is a Duke graduate whoâ€™s made big bucks writing recycled, clichÃ©-ridden sports books, some of which touch on ACC basketball. Guess which ACC programs receive the predictable â€œlegendâ€? treatment in those books? If you canâ€™t, you shouldnâ€™t be reading this column in the first place, so go away.
Feinstein drives most reporters nuts because heâ€™s almost always got the inside track for program access at the perennial championship contenders. Whatâ€™s his interest in upsetting that status quo? Integer level, Iâ€™d say â€“ and Iâ€™d be right.
Feinstein is annoying enough for anyone, not least because he gambles (successfully) that his readers arenâ€™t smart enough to recognize recycled, clichÃ©-ridden tripe from the last time they read it, and thus keep buying his books. But heâ€™s nothing compared to Vitale. Hereâ€™s Vitale in the same column quoted above:
OK, all you Duke bashers and critics, what say you now? The same folks who won’t give any credit to consistent winners such as Notre Dame’s football program and the New York Yankees have to take a look at these numbers: The Blue Devils have the longest active streak of consecutive trips to the Sweet 16 with eight. Coach K and his team have their routine together: cut down the nets, then [sic] celebrate in private.
Vitale actually claims he isnâ€™t biased in his color commentary, that all he does is praise Duke and (to a lesser extent) UNC. Because, as he says himself: â€œI am not going to apologize for singing the praises of one of the best programs in the nation over the last 15 years. What’s not to praise when talking about Coach K…?â€? This is a guy who actually danced around with the Duke cheerleaders and dance team once during pre-game warm-ups. Bias? You make the call.
You want to take coaching advice from these guys? What next â€“ military advice from France?
Big Sports media, from ESPN through John Feinstein, have literally millions invested in hyping certain programs as perennial champions. Look at the hype surrounding the Duke/UNC games every year â€“ weâ€™ve gone to war with less media fanfare. Why, one wonders, would a media construct with so much invested want something to come along â€“ like an NC State program that consistently challenges Duke and UNC â€“ and upset the cash-filled applecart?
Naturally they donâ€™t. And whatâ€™s worse, theyâ€™ve also convinced themselves that their hype, magically, is (through repetition) an eternal truth: NC State not only shouldnâ€™t challenge for ACC supremacy â€“ it CANNOT do so, and thus shouldnâ€™t try.
And we, fans of that program, should stop whining about Sendek. We get to the Dance, donâ€™t we? Thatâ€™s all we can realistically expect, because we arenâ€™t Duke, UNC, or other media darlings. The Big Sports media of 2006 reminds me of the British Tory press of the early 1900s, praising the improvement of national school systems but fretting over the â€œdangersâ€? inherent in educating the lower classes â€œbeyond their station.â€?
Simply put, if you take the Big Sports Mediaâ€™s advice on the health of our basketball program, youâ€™ll help ensure that it remains solidly in third place within the borders of the Research Triangle, let alone conference and nationally. And thatâ€™s not what any State fan should want.