Duke-North Carolina: Why Rivals Love To Hate

Mike KlineAnalyst INovember 12, 2009

As we ring in the college basketball season, it is customary to wonder how one's team will fare going into the season.

In North Carolina things work a little bit differently, as fans of Duke and the Tar Heels are wondering how their favorite teams will fare against each other.

The rivalry is an old one. The passionate dislike, even hatred, is old too, but why is it so strong?

There are several factors.


Private vs. Public

Duke is a small private school while North Carolina is the state school.

The perception is it’s the rich elite (Duke) against the average, everyday kid that goes to the state school (North Carolina).

Realistically, this is more fiction than truth. Sure, Duke has a hefty price tag and high academic standards, but North Carolina is as selective academically as any private school.

North Carolina isn't a laid-back, party hard, stereotype of a state school either. They are actually pretty straight-laced.

Students (yes, students) come to games—football, basketball, and probably otherwise—in button-up dress shirts or dresses.

Not to say that all of them do, but a fair number do.

The crowd is often considered a bit wine-and-cheese, and if you have ever driven through Chapel Hill, you'd get the strong sense you are in quite the hoity-toity environment.

Not something easily said while driving in Durham.

So the whole public vs. private battle is really just a wash.


Proximity Effect

The fact that these two schools are a mere eight miles apart may have more to do with the rivalry than anything.

Having two highly ranked basketball teams so close together usually provides some tension.

Duke football coach David Cutcliffe remarked that when he goes to Target, he often feels like he is on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines simply due to the amount of North Carolina apparel he sees.

It isn't that difficult to tell where Chapel Hill begins and Durham ends, but when it comes to the fans, you see the line blur as both types of fans are found everywhere in the area.


Us vs. Them

In the 1980s the Duke-North Carolina rivalry had an "us vs. them" mentality in favor of the Tar Heels.

Blue Devils fans, which are still to this day clearly outnumbered, hadn't won a national title and were seen as second fiddle to Dean Smith's North Carolina squads.

That changed in the 1990s when Duke started to dominate the college basketball scene.

There was a significant shift in the mentality, as North Carolina fans marketed themselves as the underdogs.

Since 2001, following Duke's national championship, there has been a shift back to North Carolina as the dominant team in college basketball and in the state.

Duke has been good but has not come close to the success of North Carolina—two championships since 2005.

Thus, Duke fans now carry the banner as underdog.


It’s All about the Fans

The No. 1 factor, I believe, that keeps the rivalry so intense is the fanbase.

They are strong on both sides and at times quite intense.

I've heard, on more than one occasion, fans say they fear losing to the other team just because they don't want the grief from the opposing team's fans.

It is that intense. If you were to ask those fans to really think about it, it isn't the players or coaches they hate—it is the fans.

They fuel everything.

Players who sign at one school typically move to the area and develop the animosity toward the other school just from feeding off fans' vibes.

Ask any former Duke or North Carolina player, and they might even admit to being a fan of the other program before they went to their respective school.

Fans that have no knowledge of a player will begin to hate them because they simply play for the other team, when realistically they have no reason to dislike them otherwise.

They would probably love them if they played for their team. All those idiosyncrasies opposing fans point out as reasons they hate a particular player would be endearing trademarks if he were on their side.


So the rivalry between Duke and North Carolina is as strong as ever.

Seeing as neither school is moving location, neither fanbase is losing its passion, and as long as one school keeps a slight edge over the other, expect the rivalry to continue to be just as strong.


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