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