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Dear UNC: There’re Good Reasons Some Of Us Are Showing Our Asses

July 16, 2010

Here’s an open letter to you, the Carolina fan, from a life-long State fan. (Stay with me–there’s no gloating, I promise.)

Dear UNC:

First off, believe me when I tell you I am not rooting for y’all to get the NCAA full-body-cavity treatment. Whether you choose to believe that or not–despite my feelings for your school–is up to you, but I promise you it’s the truth.

But just because I feel that way doesn’t mean there aren’t many of my brethren out there that do. You probably consider it just another example of State’s boorish, base behavior that we display regarding all things UNC. When you hear it, you probably curse us all as dirty cow college rednecks that would rather see you fail rather see us succeed. I get that.

But since most of you out there were born either just before or subsequently after State’s fall from grace, you likely aren’t too schooled on our school’s history with the NCAA (other than wild, baseless rumors of all the kids Jimmy V ate). The punishments that were handed down regarding transgressions in the basketball program in the 70s and early 90s–relative to those punishments meted to other programs–have bred a great deal of bitterness toward the NCAA and to schools like yours. Allow me to shed a little light on this history so you can better understand why some State fans are reacting the way they are.  

When David Thompson was a highly sought after recruit in the early 70s, the NCAA deemed that State held an illegal tryout for Thompson and banned the Wolfpack from postseason play from Thompson’s first varsity season. On the surface, I suppose that seems harsh but fair. But when you look below the surface, you learn that Thompson had already signed his letter of intent. Thompson’s recruitment was already over and there was no doubt WHERE Thompson would be going to school. How could State be “trying out” a player they’d already signed? State went 27-0 during the 1973 season, but could not compete for an NCAA title when it stood a fantastic chance to win it all a year prior to 1974 when that same team won the school’s first national title. Was denying State a chance at the postseason in 1973 fair punishment for a school that held an “improper tryout” for a kid they’d already signed? State fans–and I think most objective sports fans–would say “no.”

Then there was the Jim Valvano mess. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Valvano was sloppy in the way he served as both basketball coach and later as both coach and AD. He recruited some questionable players (he beat out Dean Smith for Chris Washburn, before you reach in your pocket for that sanctimonious “Washburn” card, by the way) and spent more time on TV doing Letterman and The Cosby Show than managing the State athletic department. He made mistakes for sure.

However, the fall of Valvano began with a book entitled “Personal Fouls.” It was written by an author named Peter Golenbock largely with the assistance of a former State manager who had an axe to grind with V. The book was filled largely with lies, wild speculation and half-truths. There were accusations of point-shaving and grade fixing, among other things. Many of the names are misspelled. Many of the locations, times and events mentioned in the book are wrong.

It was a pure sensationalistic assassination piece, and it worked. CBS ran a piece on 48 Hours that cast the school in a poor light. The N&O began a long and prolonged series of articles on the matter. Often, these articles were filled with the same half-truths and lies that appeared in “Personal Fouls;” when the facts were made known, often the N&O would run the retractions buried elsewhere in the paper instead of owning up to running with false info.

In light of all the nationwide news stories and the N&O’s articles, the NCAA descended on the school and gave State’s basketball program one of the most thorough top-to-bottom investigations ever seen. Further, the school itself AND a state-of-NC appointed Poole Commission joined the NCAA in their efforts. Many expected the NCAA, State and Poole Commission would find State guilty of a laundry list of violations, but at the end of it all, the net result of infractions uncovered by the three bodies was merely that a few players sold some of their complimentary tickets and shoes for spending cash. That’s it. No point-shaving. No grade-fixing.

The NCAA’s lead investigator, Dave Didion, even sent Valvano a hand-written letter after the fact praising Valvano for his cooperation with the investigation, going so far to say he would be proud to have his son play for Valvano.

But the damage had already been done. The school, shamed by all the poor publicity, self-imposed a two-year probation on the school, imposed insanely high academic standards for its future recruits during this probation period, and was prevented from competing in the 1990 NCAA Tournament. The initial punishments for the selling of tickets and shoes was overkill, but worse yet, State has never since recovered from those punishments. State had two national titles, UNC had two national titles and Duke had zero national titles at the time. Duke and UNC have won SEVEN more national titles since that time, whereas State has yet to so much as sniff an Elite Eight. It wasn’t a formal, SMU-type “Death Penalty” in the NCAA books, but it might as well have been.

All of that brings me to my point: State fans who are cheering this NCAA probe at UNC aren’t doing so baselessly. They see the transgressions that have occurred at Duke–with Corey Maggette accepting payments as an AAU player–and at Carolina–where Joe Forte’s mother, Wanda Hightower, was hired on at the sports agency that ultimately signed him–and compare that to the transgressions the occurred at State and wonder aloud, “Where were the postseason bans and vacating of wins at Duke when they played with an ineligible player?” “Why did the NCAA simply take UNC’s word for it and turn a blind eye to the Forte/Hightower situation?”

All State fans want from the NCAA is fairness. If State did wrong, punish us according to the severity of the crime. If Duke did wrong, punish them accordingly. Same with UNC. But since there have been verified transgressions at Duke and UNC worse than those unearthed at State that have gone unpunished, THAT is the root of State folks rooting on the NCAA. It’s simply a desire to see programs that are widely considered the cornerstones of the NCAA’s “brand” held to the same standards that State has historically been.

So there it is. Those State folks cheering on the investigation aren’t merely doing so because they want to see UNC collect a black eye. It’s because the NCAA has proven over time that it’s wildly inconsistent with whom they investigate and how they dole out punishment, and Carolina is in these folks’ eyes finally getting a dose of the medicine they’ve avoided for so long.

It doesn’t sound good, but I sincerely hope everything works out for y’all. I’d rather Russell Wilson beat y’all again WITH Marvin Austin and Greg Little than without.

– James C.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Clay Graham permalink
    July 16, 2010 6:33 pm

    Great Article! I really enjoyed it.

  2. Kevin permalink
    July 17, 2010 9:16 am

    From a Tarheel fan;

    Well written and good points. While some Wolfpackers wouldn’t mind seeing the Tarheels completely collapse I agree that many would rather beat a Tarheel team that is high on itself and has no excuses to fall back on.

    I worked at NCSU during the “Personal Fouls” related investigation and I agree it was handled poorly by both the media and the NCAA.

    • July 17, 2010 8:32 pm

      Kevin,

      Thanks for stopping by. Good luck to y’all through this. I think reasonable fans on both sides want fair punishment for any wrongdoings from the NCAA. Unfortunately, that’s not been their track record.

  3. Michael Clontz permalink
    July 17, 2010 6:05 pm

    WOW…Spot-On article. I remember the Personal Fouls book & thinking…”Are they just making this stuff up??”…I guess they really were. I don’t think the NCAA will do SQUAT to UNC. The public outcry(&from the News and Disturber) would be too much to handle & Wal-Mart might lose a buck in the mess. I agree….When we wax them in football AGAIN with Marvin (Wish I could Read) Austin I just HOPE they say….”Wait till Basketball season….What then…Wait till baseball???

  4. Matt Jones permalink
    July 20, 2010 10:43 am

    First off, very good article, and I appreciate your not stooping to simply piling on. Yes, I am a UNC alum and a proud supporter of our sports programs. I’ve also grown up in NC with a family of nearly 100% State grads except for me and my father, the lone UNC defectors. So I’m well-versed in both the politics of this game as well as the conspiracy theories. My take is sort of the inverse of your article’s. If you look at the history of the NCAA and its investigations, I think you find that there’s a lot more consistency than you’d think, and it is that they consistently don’t do very much in terms of punishment. Yes, there have been a couple “death penalties” doled out, but when you consider some of the blatantly shady programs that have come and gone through the years, I think its pretty clear that the NCAA lags behind in their punishments most of the time. The exception is NC State, not Duke or Carolina or any of the other “chosen” programs. They aren’t easy on everyone else, they were hard on you. So why? I think the answer is your boy Golenbock. That book carried so much salacious mudslinging, it caught the eye of the non-sports world, and that put pressure on the NCAA it’s simply not prepared to handle very well. Ask yourself, how many stories have you seen 48 Hours run on investigations of schools that aren’t completed yet? That’s the unusual part in this scenario. And that unnatural attention pushed the NCAA to bring the full weight it could muster. Could they have withstood that pressure without dumping on State? Of course! I don’t think anyone who knows the facts of the case would dispute that, but it’s the harshness that’s unusual, not the lack in nearly every other case.

    So why even bring this up? Because this situation has warped the State-fan mind in an odd way. Somehow this bit of injustice has become the responsibility of your school’s rivals, mostly UNC because of its perceived “golden boy” status in nearly every arena, and just because you don’t like us very much. Oh, and by the way, I work at the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, the smallest and least cared-for school in the UNC system. And I can tell you definitively that State lags behind nobody in the minds and pocketbooks of the state legislators. It is UNC AND State that dominate every part of our public school system, and any inequality you see there is purely imagined, I can tell you! But I digress, I guess what I’m saying is that I find it ridiculous that we at UNC have to bear the cost of a wrong committed against your school 20 years ago by an agency we have no control over. It’s bad enough that every bag boy with blue hat is treated like a PR rep of the school if they do a little uninformed trash talking, but now we’re meant to cut you some slack if you’re blaming us for what the NCAA did to you? Well, allow me to courteously abstain. This investigation is being covered as though it’s smaller because unless another shoe drops it IS smaller, and I make no apologies for that. IF Austin and Little are found to have taken a trip, they’ll be gone, and I sincerely hope that the athletic department makes not one apology for that either. As far as I’m concerned, this one’s on the players, not the program. And despite what you hear from the same kinds of sources as Golenbock, UNC runs a clean program and doesn’t deserve to bear the guilt of the crimes you assume they must have committed. My response is what it always is, “If you have proof of any amount of wrongdoing, bring it out and let’s rock! If you don’t, shut the hell up!”

    Why don’t UNC folk want to hear from State people about this investigation? For the same reasons you don’t want to hear about your own dirty laundry from us: because it doesn’t have anything to do with you. So when State folks “show their asses” about this, doesn’t it kinda just make them asses? That’s the standard you hold our fans to, and I don’t see any reason to do different for yours. Mind your store, and we’ll mind ours. Oh yeah, and we’ll see you on Nov 20th. Can’t wait.

    • July 20, 2010 11:14 am

      Matt, thanks for stopping by. I mean that sincerely.

      I don’t think I ever declared I felt like State fans were blaming Carolina or its fans for the harshness of the NCAA’s penalties. David Thompson believes that coach Guthridge lobbied for his college roommate working in the NCAA offices at the time to investigate us and was responsible for elevating the severity of the NCAA’s penalty. I can’t say for sure if that’s true one way or the other–that’s DT’s opinion. I would think he would have a pretty good idea of things that happened at the time, given he was at the center of it all, but he certainly was–and still is–burned at the fact that those mickey mouse charges robbed that team of a great shot at an NCAA title, so he’s certainly biased a bit.

      My ultimate point in the article–and I apologize if I wasn’t clear in making it–was that the NCAA needs to be more fair in how it doles out its punishment. The way they over-punished NC State relative to the severity of the crimes (as you acknowledged) generated a lot of bitterness within the fanbase toward the NCAA. This bitterness manifests itself as folks “showing their asses.”

      Now, UNC hasn’t helped matters by purporting the myth of “The Carolina Way.” When you make a point to constantly look down your noses at other schools while bragging about your school’s moral superiority, it really opens the door for folks to cheer on an investigation like this. Because let’s be honest: Carolina is NO different than any other school when it comes to “playing the game” of major college athletics. They admit players of questionable academic character (Alleric Mullens), moral character (Mhaktar N’Dyiae) and those who shoplift, smoke weed and accept benefits from agents. And normally incidents like that aren’t a huge deal–that’s just what comes with the territory–but Carolina invites cries of hypocrisy when they insist they’re “squeaky clean” relative to the rest of college athletics.

      Again, thanks for stopping by, and keep reading!

      • Matt Jones permalink
        July 20, 2010 2:55 pm

        Before I respond, I want to thank you again for your tone. I realize we’re killing each other with kindness here, but I really do appreciate your keeping it civil with this. It’s rare to get to actually discuss this stuff without it devolving into name calling. I’ll respond to your paragraphs as you’ve written them for speed’s sake:

        No, you didn’t say that State fans are blaming UNC; that’s true. But there is certainly blame involved here, or at the very least guilt. Maybe not White Guilt; let’s call it Powder Blue Guilt, and I want none of it! You have multiple entries here about how the N&O is covering our investigation (and for the record, I have absolutely zero allegiance to the paper. I’ve never read it, and I’ve heard enough State fans rant about it to believe the bias is not an imagined. Overblown, perhaps, but I have no dog in that fight…). You also phrase your issues with the NCAA in terms of fairness, which makes good sense, but then offer only examples of treatment of other schools (UNC and Duke by name) as the examples of unfairness. It’s not State vs. NCAA, but the NCAA’s treatment of State vs. the NCAA’s treatment of everyone else, and namely UNC because of the current investigation. This cuts across every argument I’ve ever had with a State fan, regardless of the topic. It’s not that Lenny Wertz gave State bad calls, it’s that he gave UNC better calls. The ACC doesn’t dump on State, they do it because Swofford went to UNC. And on and on. Taken en masse, there’s a strong implication that UNC fans either collude with or, often, actively court such favorable treatment at the expense of NCSU specifically. I’ve heard it all my life, and I think it’s bunk. It’s simply irrational to assign causal relationships where there are none. Even in your response to my comment, you follow up saying (correctly) that you didn’t blame us by dragging out that old hoary chestnut about Guthridge turning in DT (which is nothing but a he said/he said, btw. Guthridge denies it, and I guess he was as close to the center of things on that matter as DT was, so there’s no resolution there to prove anything). I guess I should start the engine on the Washburn cracks then, right? I mean, that’s my next line in the script, isn’t it? It points to the biggest crime UNC fans commit in the minds of State fans: that they simply refuse to think of themselves in terms of their rivals (ie State) in the way that State does. At least not unless you’re Duke, but that’s a whole different discussion of inferiority on our fanbase’s part. Point is no matter how you dance around it the average State fan does indeed “blame” UNC for possessing whichever trait it is they’ve decided they don’t like. It’s not a different taste (or perhaps that you want to major in something in the liberal arts!), it’s a character flaw, and the attitude we at UNC get from State is the same you might see from a little old church lady to an unrepentant sinner, and it’s all about blame. State is the dignified common man even in defeat, the lovable loser that can never catch a break, and to challenge that is heresy. That’s why I’m always shocked to read about our sense of “moral superiority,” but more on that later…

        On your second point we agree entirely. The NCAA is indeed inconsistent, and not just with punishments. They seem to interpret their own rules differently in every scenario, and that’s if they even seem to know what the rules are at all! That’s the reason I find NCAA violations alone to be a dubious standard by which to judge a program. Rather, I’d look at what happened (as best as you can guess from the skewed news you can find) and judge from there. And as I said, I think State is totally justified in their frustration and bitterness toward them. Where you lose me is in using that bitterness to justify rooting for the same treatment at other schools, even your rival. I wouldn’t wish the NCAA on you guys or Duke or any school. Two wrongs cannot make a right. I really believe that. Well, maybe if it was Duke…

        And finally, ahhh…The Carolina Way. Discussing this issue is like discussing Southern hospitality; it both exists and doesn’t at all times and in every scenario. What it really means is that there is a standard that everything in our program is held to internally that has everything to do with Dean Smith. It means they still get in trouble and run when they cuss in practice. It means the players are required to attend religious services every Sunday, whatever that means for each player’s beliefs. It’s pointing to the guy who gave the assist and winning without having to cheat. These things trace directly back to Smith’s help in desegregating the town in the 60’s and all the other lofty ideals he embodied, on the court and off. These are real and tangible in the minds of UNC fans in a way that they are not for other programs and we shouldn’t have to apologize for that. That’s the real part. The imagined part is that the players or coaches who come through our program are somehow better, smarter, and more wholesome than those who go through other programs, and that’s baloney. It’s sad that so much of our fanbase has bought into that kind of thinking, and what can I say other than to apologize on behalf of our real fans for the irresponsible behavior of the dumb ones. But I say without hesitation that we’re as clean as and usually cleaner than any school operating at our level of recruiting. Aleric Mullens left the school in fine academic shape (the stuff about his entry was pure here-say), Makhtar is our Washburn and I offer no excuse for him other than to say there’s only been one of him, and the rest of that stuff you said is just the dregs that come with any cup of coffee you order (including the red-tinted ones). I myself have never claimed any moral superiority to anyone other than maybe Duke and that just has to do with corrupting power of the rich, and that’s a MUCH different conversation! As for squeaky clean, well, we have performed at a high level in many sports for decades with nary a scandal or probation to speak of, so I’ll put that record up against anybody’s. State fans seem to assume we could only have done this by cheating and just haven’t been caught yet (or covered it up if you really want to leave your sanity behind). I say that says more about them than us and it really calls into question who’s making the claim for moral superiority, doesn’t it?

        So I say again, mind your own store and we’ll mind ours. Then let’s settle matter on the field and on the court. Then we can talk about superiority.

  5. Mike permalink
    July 20, 2010 4:15 pm

    Just one thought to add kind of outside of the good discussion you have.

    Matt wrote: “This investigation is being covered as though it’s smaller because unless another shoe drops it IS smaller, and I make no apologies for that. IF Austin and Little are found to have taken a trip, they’ll be gone, and I sincerely hope that the athletic department makes not one apology for that either”

    Note one thing here. In the recent USC / Reggie Bush rulings the NCAA made it perfectly clear that star players breaking rules would lead to harder sanctions. The reasoning for this is that the school should focus their resources on those players most likely to receive and accept improper benefits.

    My point here is that it may be only 2 players involved. It may be just a few trips and some money – but that can lead to some big time sanctions. These guys are in the limelight and if there is a pattern that can be established then the NCAA will probably come down pretty hard on them. Finally the ongoing USC appeal is a big fat negative for UNC. NCAA can not be lenient in improper benefits received case while justifying the sanctions given to USC.

    I hope for fair review (if guilty guys are off the team and maybe you loose a few scholarships) BUT don’t be surprised if the penalty seems to severe at the end.

    UNC might get the exact same treatment State did. Bush was as high profile as it gets and USC paid the price. Now UNC might get a penalty much harsher than if this had been a case 2 years ago or a few years from now……

  6. ncsu1987 permalink
    March 10, 2015 5:11 pm

    Interesting to read this from so long ago…Great article, nailed it from my perspective. What’s most interesting, however, are the comments from Matt Jones. Despite the amicable tone, it still reads as just a tad bit over the condescension line and, five years later, with what we know now, is funny on a whole new level.

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