The text from my father on Sunday was almost a rhetorical question. “Want to come over Monday for the game?” My reply instead: “I actually thought about how I would answer this last night.”
My father graduated North Carolina in 1969. I graduated N.C. State in 1995. This has little to do with an interfamilial rivalry, though. I’ve watched Carolina basketball games with him, watched with him as Carolina beat State repeatedly, watched the few times we’ve gotten our revenge, no problems. He and I took in the national final last year, and Dad was the picture of grace in such a gut-wrenching defeat.
Still, as North Carolina’s academic dishonesty has gone so long without punishment, I felt like this was an appropriate time to make my contempt meaningful with more than words. It pissed Dad off. I saw the ellipses come up three times and go away with no reply when I ultimately refused to sit for tonight’s game and told him why.
“What happened between last year and this year?” he asked, somewhat blindsided.
Last year, I expected some kind of resolution by now, not another abuse of the process by North Carolina and a can kicked down the road so another Roy Williams superteam could find fulfillment on another Monday in another NFL stadium. As this case has lingered, I’ve seen a kind of performative shame develop, at least in the alumni still capable of shame, but it stops when you start talking about serious punishments. My brother (UNC ’93) is happy to cross out the 2005 and 2009 banners on his Facebook page, as if that means anything. To suggest something as reasonable as a single postseason ban, or that their basketball team does not deserve to be in this tournament, much less its championship game, is to be told to move on, or get over it. North Carolina is good at two things: basketball and telling other people their feelings. If Brainy Smurf and Lucy from Peanuts had sex, and the child was born out her rear end, you’d have a UNC fan for sure.
They also get very huffy when you point out the obvious most-favored nation status UNC has with broadcasters. Its continued eligibility is owed to its value as prime television inventory for the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference. That, and less a matter of school ties, is why ACC commissioner John Swofford infamously showed up at North Carolina’s hearing before the committee on infractions, in a show of support. The Tar Heels are a guaranteed revenue stream to the league every year they are eligible for the NCAA tournament.
Considering all this, I felt yesterday that the proper thing to do is to just not give the Tar Heels my eyeballs anymore. Not against State, not against anyone. Not the game tonight with my father after dinner.
So it’s the national championship. Oh, who gives a shit, really. UNC has just sucked all the intrigue out of college sports. They so plainly benefit from institutional favoritism, whether it’s the foot-dragging of the NCAA or the pro bono recruiting pitches from ESPN, that it isn’t even interesting to me anymore. This year’s final is an almost comical example of that. Not only is UNC still playing because the NCAA defers to its schedule and needs, UNC was the one emerging from a blueblood regional constructed to guarantee CBS a national program into the last weekend of the tournament. Sorry, Oregon, Sorry Gonzaga, I will now speak from the experience of several ACC tournaments. The Tar Heels will always be there to poach whatever you’ve worked for, like that asshole archaeologist in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Bringing up North Carolina’s dishonesty, privilege and inherited advantage usually guarantees a sneer from them about State’s mediocrity. I freely admit we have not been worth watching for much of the past 30 years. My time at N.C. State from 1991 to 1995 was the university’s worst four-year run in men’s basketball. No postseason, whatsoever. The NCAA bid taken for granted as a college experience at so many universities was not for us, thanks to the zealotry of the UNC Board of Governors, presented with a piss-ant treasury of nonscandals compiled by Peter Golenbock. It is no coincidence that State has not won a conference tournament, finished first in the league, or made an NCAA regional final since Valvano.
At the time, C.D. Spangler admitted that there was no proof of what Golenbock alleged and what everyone so breathlessly retailed. Still, like a parent’s phony claim of not wanting to spank a child, while doing it anyway, he said State had to be punished for violating the spirit of the law, because we used our curriculum to warehouse unworthy students and preserve their eligibility for performance in big-time basketball games.
Boy. Doesn’t that sound familiar 25 years later — except for the part where the Board of Governors, stacked with Chapel Hill diplomas, is silent on what its favorite children did for nearly two decades.
State got its nuts nailed to a log, I believe, out of institutional resentment that Jim Valvano could get so far with a predominantly black lineup, whose white stars were Italians from the northeast. The rosters of our glory days were decidedly not-UNC. No Steve Hales or Jeff Lebos there. So when I enrolled at N.C. State, we were saddled with the harshest eligibility standards of any school in the ACC, which took the few decent players we had out of action and even led to their transfer (Lewis Sims to New Orleans, Chuck Kornegay to Villanova, where both would later play in NCAA tournaments).
I was at N.C. State when Jerry Stackhouse of Kinston, rightly assessing the wreckage in Raleigh, reneged on State and enrolled at UNC. It was probably more pivotal in the two schools’ relationships than Phil Ford choosing Chapel Hill. I was at N.C. State for three of the five “Les Robinson Invitationals,” as was called the ACC Tournament play-in game when the conference expanded to nine teams. I was there when a couple of our starters were reportedly playing an intramural softball game hours before we lost to Florida Atlantic, then ranked dead last in RPI.
And I was at N.C. State in 1992, marching with students from UNC-Greensboro, N.C. A&T and Central, in solidarity with Chapel Hill undergraduates, to demand a free standing Black Cultural Center, and curriculum changes acknowledging the experiences of black students there. Had I known this would become the engine of the Tar Heels’ overwhelming competitive advantage for the next two decades, I would have stayed at home.
UNC employed a racially segregated system of dishonest courses in order to keep mercenaries like Sean May and lunkheads like Tyler Hansbrough available for practice and play. My favorite feature of this, one largely unremarked upon, is that UNC — which boasts of commissioning more naval officers than all but the Naval Academy‚ sent two white players over to an advanced weapons systems course for an easy A.
That was first reported more than four years ago, and it was just one detail in a scandal whose scope, intent and benefit to a revenue-generating program was easily provable then. State fans love to complain about what would be said or done if it was us; I actually wonder what we would be saying if this occurred at Duke, everyone’s favorite White Privilege punching bag. And it boggles my mind that a sports blogosphere capable of instant and constant outrage regarding any issue of gender inequity has expressed next to no contempt for an athletics department that blatantly threw its women’s basketball and soccer teams under the bus to save the men from punishment.
For more than five years now, the NCAA, through a credulous and despicable whitewash from former Gov. Jim Martin, and Kenneth Wainstein’s carefully manicured scolding (to which everyone nods — but not too hard, now) has done nothing meaningful. It has wrung its hands and whimpered and simpered about how difficult and messy and complicated and unprecedented this situation is. It’s so unprecedented!
Never mind the alacrity with which the NCAA has pursued errant strivers like Minnesota, Memphis State, Massachusetts and California, and unapologetic factories like Oklahoma and Florida State, who don’t have the protection of a U.S. News and World Report Top 25 ranking. Let’s not forget how the Javerts of Indianapolis nailed Southern California, or their emergency, PR-driven, make-it-up-on-the-spot response to Penn State, which was being prosecuted by more competent authorities in courts of law. Let’s not forget the criminal lengths the NCAA went to in sanctioning Miami football.
But for Big Chill U., whose Blue Heaven, Carolina Way mythology kisses the ass of every baby boomer fortunate to enroll in a time when being white and paying a nominal fee were the main admissions criteria, the NCAA must now be thoughtful and very deliberate. Sure, it talked tough last fall when it brought back men’s basketball and football, by name, to this can continually kicked down the road. Yeah. Who took these mentions out of it in the first place, though? Actions, not words, describe intent, and at every turn the NCAA shows more concern with appearing tough than actually leveling judgment.
The probe, the filings, the re-filings, the hearings have all proceeded according to the convenience and prerogatives of UNC basketball and its appearance in the NCAA’s most lucrative television spectacle. And I’ll also guarantee the NCAA’s insipid Committee on Infractions doesn’t do anything before the last national letters of intent are signed May 17.
I have a brother and a mother and a father who went to UNC. Two cousins, and their father are Carolina alumni; one met his wife there. A very dear friend works for the university. I have my grandmother’s diploma here in my home, from a time when women were supposed to go to Greensboro, not Chapel Hill. I still and always will have great respect for UNC and those who graduate it, even if I flee the room whenever I hear Charles Kuralt puffing out his vocal sac about “the university of the people.” I pay taxes to this state after all.
But no longer will I acknowledge UNC’s athletics programs. As much as my alma mater was set back, as much as its failures were set in motion by the disproportionate sanctions of the Personal Fouls scandal, UNC’s athletic greatness stands on the shoulders of a great and so far unpunished crime. The Carolina Way was a lie and anyone who believed in it is a fool. So we come to a day where the Tar Heels do not deserve my attention, and the fools don’t deserve my company.
Owen S. Good is a 1995 graduate of North Carolina State University and a 2000 graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He was sports editor of Technician in the 1994-1995 academic year. He lives in Elkin.