In Defense of Duke: Dispelling the Myths Behind the Hatred

Mike KlineAnalyst IMay 22, 2009

BOSTON - MARCH 26:  The Duke Blue Devils sit dejected on their bench after losing to the Villanova Wildcats during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regionals at TD Banknorth Garden on March 26, 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Duke Basketball, without question, is one of the most marketable brands in all of American sports.

It is also one of the most hated.

Hate is a strong word and not to be used lightly—but when it comes to the Duke Blue Devils, many see red.

I have written and read a few pieces on Duke, and many responses that are from non-Duke fans are just unbelievable.

One thing is surely clear from them though—Duke is not well liked.

The reasons why are many, but more often than not they don't appear to be researched thoroughly enough to warrant much consideration.

So why does Duke University, a small private school with less than 10,000 students enrolled, incite such disdain from so many fans and even some members of the media?

Duke Is Elitist

Because Duke is a private school with a hefty tuition, many look at the university as nothing more than a bastion of rich, white Northerners.

Duke's population is predominately white, and most are not from the state of North Carolina. To say that everyone who attends is rich is just stereotyping.

ESPN even did a commercial featuring several universities, and they used that exact same stereotype when it came to describing a Duke student. The ad was quickly pulled—which proves a point, actually two, but I'll get to the other one in a minute.

Athletically, Duke is diverse, although many believe basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski only recruits white players, which is also incorrect—see the incoming class of 2010.

I remember hearing a story about one of former Duke player Chris Carrawell's first experiences on the Duke Campus.

Having grown up in a not-so-elite neighborhood in St. Louis, Carrawell came to Durham driving in an old beat-up car. He said that it was a different experience seeing other kids drive up in BMWs and Mercedes.

Carrawell's life in St. Louis wasn't weekends at the beach, tennis courts, and butlers. There were gangs, violence, and death around him.

Carrawell went on to be a success story and is back at Duke as a graduate assistant. If a kid from the tough streets of St. Louis can find a home at Duke and then choose to come back, that has to say something.

Duke is also not liked by many in North Carolina, and the South in general, perhaps because of the Northern influence as much as the "rich" stereotype. Typically, Southerners will be honest about their lack of fondness for Northerners—and in Duke's case, no exception is made.

Duke athletes frequently do work in the community, much like those at any other school would. But they are still seen as somehow stuck up.

It is nothing short of ironic that the University of North Carolina, far and away the most popular in the state, resides in a community known for its elitist nature. Yet no accusations are tossed at it mainly because it is a public university—and also because any accusations would be as unfair and shortsighted as those thrown at Duke.

Mike Krzyzewski

Coach K is another reason Duke is disliked by many who are not already fans or loyal supporters of Duke University.

Krzyzewski came to Duke almost 30 years ago with little fanfare. After three seasons, he would have been promptly run out of town by those same supporters if not for the support of then-Athletic Director Tom Butters.

Butters stood by his coach and now 29 years, 14 Final Fours, and three national championships later, Coach K has become an ambassador for the college game.

Many have said he is a modern-age John Wooden, although that isn't a fair comparison for either man.

A more accurate comparison, I believe, for Krzyzewski is to a band who initially was known and liked by a few but then hit it big and now is labeled a sellout.

Between the commercials for American Express and Guitar Hero, not to mention his books, Krzyzewski has created a brand of his own almost separate from Duke. Like commercials in general, people get tired of seeing him.

Many in the media dislike him due to his lack of availability. He isn't always the most open and willing to talk to the media—and if he calls them out, which he did this past season, he is typically put in front of the firing lines.

The odd thing is Krzyzewski by all accounts is a down-to-Earth family man. He is loyal to his family, country, and school. In appearances on talk shows about the Olympic team, he has come across as quite personable and likable.

Even Jim Rome, who had never before interviewed Krzyzewski, and who even used to call him Kra-zewski as a joke, came out of that interview impressed. He even apologized for his intentional mispronouncing of his name.

Many call him a whiner who is too liberal with the four-letter words. But he never directs those words to his players on national TV—like other coaches have and do.

Sure, the officials draw his ire from time to time, but they also do from most coaches.

He has never been caught up in any major recruiting violations, unlike many other coaches who have come and gone. He has run a clean program that has graduated players, and he has coached the National Team back to a level of respect.

Like him or not, he has earned respect—and deserves it.

Duke Gets All the Calls

This has been a prevalent misconception ever since the 2001 National Title game, when announcer Bill Packer uttered the now-famous words, "Wow, Duke is getting a lot of the calls so far."

Has Duke gotten some questionable calls over the years?


Do they get all the calls?


There have been some very controversial calls that have gone in Duke's favor. Is that Duke's fault though?

Statistics can be manipulated to show just about anything, but looking at just average fouls per game over the last few years, one can't argue Duke gets less all the time.

If you compare this year's UNC team that won the title to this year's Duke team, you would see that UNC averaged 16 fouls per game to Duke's 20.9.

The previous two champs, Kansas and Florida, each averaged 17.6 fouls per game. The two Duke teams during that time averaged 22.3 and 19.8 fouls per game, respectively.

Even the '01 team Packer famously called out for getting the calls averaged 21.6 fouls to Arizona's 17.4.

So make what you will out of the statistics, but to say Duke gets all the calls is just not accurate.

ESPN Favors Duke

This is true, but not for the reason many who hate Duke think.

ESPN cares about one thing: the bottom line. And as far as ESPN's bottom line is concerned, Duke is good for it.

Duke games bring in viewers, and that means money—especially in large market areas. Duke doesn't have a large fanbase, but it is one that is spread out nationally in many large market areas.

ESPN wants that profit; hence many Duke games are televised on one of the ESPN channels. It also helps that Duke wins a majority of its games.

It is very similar to how the Yankees are almost always on TV, especially if it is a game against the Red Sox.

The bottom line is money, and if Duke began to lose its market appeal, ESPN would drop them fast.

ESPN announcers are often accused of playing favorites too—especially when it comes to Duke. Dick Vitale is often considered to be the biggest Duke cheerleader.

Many Duke fans are just as annoyed with Vitale as other fans.

To me, it just appears that Vitale is just a fan of programs that are successful and do things the right way.

Jay Bilas also gets accused of being a Duke favorite, but at times he is the most critical.

I still remember his post-Duke days broadcasting some games on the Duke Radio Network. He would be the first to point out Duke's shortcomings in a fair and unbiased way.

Now on ESPN, he, at least to me, appears to bring that same knowledge and unbiased approach. He doesn't take cheap shots at old rivals, and he and Hubert Davis appear to work well together.

It typically is Rece Davis who stirs up more about the rivalry than anyone else. If you watch enough ESPN coverage, you know the Duke-UNC game is always over-hyped.

ESPN a few years ago attempted to discredit Duke's Basketball program with a segment that centered on Duke players graduating with degrees in sociology.

This was a feeble attempt to say Duke players took easier courses and chose an easier major. I'm sure the non-athletes who were sociology majors didn't appreciate their major being considered easy—nor the professors who taught the courses.

It isn't like they were taking TV or basket weaving.

So as for the ESPN favoritism, that explanation remains as easy or as difficult as sociology, I guess.

Duke Fans Are the Most Arrogant

In a way, much like the ESPN myth, this is true as well.

Unfortunately, you can only read but so much into this statement.

There isn't an elite school, pro team, or even Little League team that doesn't have arrogant fans. It is the nature of sports and fanbases in general to be arrogant, especially if your team is good.

I know obnoxious and arrogant Duke fans. I also know obnoxious and arrogant UNC, NC State, UCLA, USC, Michigan, Michigan State, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox fans too. That is just to name a few of the arrogant and obnoxious fans I know.

Does that mean all fans of those teams are arrogant? Absolutely not.

The truth is Duke's fanbase is no more arrogant and obnoxious than any other team. In reality there is no way to measure this, so to believe this statement would be just plain narrow-minded.

Hating Duke is now a fashion statement, but for whatever the reason it just doesn't make sense.

I can see not liking Duke because they are a rival or they regularly beat your favorite team. Even just not caring about them would make more sense than knowing nothing but feeding into that hatred anyway.

But hating them, to me, always seemed a bit strong.

I don't hate any team, although I do dislike some more than others. However, I can still manage a level of respect for those programs, especially if they do things the right way.

Duke has done things the right way for quite some time now, and while you don't have to like them, respecting them would be appropriate.

You wouldn't even have to admit it either.


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