what is was, was scandalous


I don’t know if this counts as irony, but on one of my last 3-day writing benders, I had to take time out for a UNC press conference: it was Harrison Barnes announcing he was coming to Carolina. Alas, during today’s bender, there was yet another press conference with polar opposite news: our football coach Butch Davis was being fired, and our Athletic Director Dickie Baddour was retiring. You guys know I bleed Carolina blue, but I still have little-to-no idea what scandal plagued our football team, why our coach wasn’t fired last year, and why, somehow, Mr. Baddour had to pay for it all with his job, when he seems like the only one with his head on straight.

This is where fans of other teams (and people who don’t like sports) tend to fall asleep, so I’ll go ahead and get quickly philosophical and make absolutely no sense: sometimes it’s as though the Natural Order of the Universe decrees that some sporting activities are simply impossible from a sub-atomic standpoint. I’m talking about the Chicago Cubs, Clemson basketball vs. us at home, and Carolina football.

There is a magnetic dis-resonance, a tectonic fault, a barely-perceptible harmonic cacophony when it comes to our football team. We’re not even terrible enough to be interesting; we skirt the edges of “good” just enough to give die-hards like me occasional hope, only to dash them in the most drawn-out, boring way possible.

There are stories of us being pretty good in 1948. I remember hearing we were also good in 1982, until this one Maryland game sunk us for 15 years. Then we got very close to good in 1997, until this one intercepted pass against Virginia sunk us for another 15(?) years.

We tend to lose games on odd technicalities that aren’t sorted out until you’re forced to say “wait, um… that’s it?” We have a beautiful stadium, incredible uniforms, an unmatched student body, a rabid fan base, and in the last fifteen years we’ve won 72 games and lost 86.

The Natural Order came to us and said, “We have given you basketball, the greatest players to have played the game, and a yearly chance at the National Championship. But the price will be football.” And so we must say “okay.”


Scotty and I sweat through UNC vs. Texas, September 2002

0 thoughts on “what is was, was scandalous

  1. savannah turner

    First off my droid changed my name to savannah. But this is savannah! Secondly, that Scott is.a.dukey person. Lol but jensen is good at other stuff. Thirdly, who cares if we win or lose? Its all about how you sneak in the liquor. Fourth, a brassiere is a good place for a flask.

  2. Lara

    As a lifelong Cubs fan, I can relate, though at least on the few occasions when the Cubs get our hopes up, they tend to blow it in shockingly dramatic fashion.

  3. chm

    Alright, I have tons of shit to do this morning, but the opportunity to explain le football américain to UNC fans is just too tasty to pass up. There is no “magnetic dis-resonance, tectonic fault, [or] barely-perceptible harmonic cacophony” with UNC football as there is with, for example, the Chicago Cubs whose lack of on-the-field success confounds statistics. UNC does not have a “rabid” football fanbase. What UNC has, as Ian concedes in his final sentence, is a fanbase and an administration which has chosen to privilege basketball over football for wholly rational historic, demographic, cultural, and academic reasons.
    Basketball geniuses Bones McKinney, Everett Case, and (yes) Frank McGuire indelibly imprinted the primacy of basketball on the piedmont linthead psyche. This occurred at a time, the 1950s, when mass media, general prosperity, and the rise of the ACC first made it possible to for piedmont lintheads to follow and identify with regional sports brands. It is true that UNC enjoyed a brief football heyday in the 1940s but that was a tad too early and too short-lived to create a general football culture and, in any case, it lacked the dynamic created by the thrilling Big Four basketball rivalries. From that time, team loyalties and basketball fever have been passed down through the generations.
    As a state, North Carolina produces roughly 60 big-time division-one level football prospects per year. Contrast this with first-tier football states (Florida, Texas, and California) which produce about 300 per and second-tier states (Ohio, Georgia, and Louisiana) which produce 150-200. Throw in the fact that North Carolina has five DI schools plus DI-AA powerhouse App State who compete for this relatively small pool, to say nothing of the out-of-state interlopers who swoop in and invariably take the best players. Teams like Texas, Florida, Georgia, LSU, and Ohio State just don’t face this kind of systemic shortage of talent; all they need to do is lock down the best players in their state and they’re set for the long term. This is partly a numbers game (Florida, Texas, and California have much larger populations of course) but not completely (Ohio, Georgia, and Louisiana don’t).
    (Personal disclosure to make sense of this beginning-to-get-unhinged post: I am the son of a monomaniacal high school football coach in the poor, benighted Florida panhandle whose wardrobe was defined for decades by an unswerving affection for Bike brand coaching shorts—for which, credit where credit’s due, thanks Gastonia lintheads! I am someone whose autumnal Friday through Monday nights has been structured by the watching of football literally since I can remember. I am someone who worked as a stringer in the early aughts for a North Carolina mullet wrapper covering high school football strictly as a way to stay close to the Friday night game. But who quit that gig after one year because I deemed North Carolina’s civic investment in football insufficient. I’m fucking insane on this issue, in other words.)
    So anyway… there’s not much spring football in the Old North State and relatively few brick-and-mortar stadiums, popular fm stations at the game on Friday night, and middle-aged men living and dying in the stands with the fortunes of the local team. And that’s an appropriate level of commitment to high school football, you say. And I agree. Objectively. But culturally it’s not where I’m coming from, and it eventuates in things like your state only producing 60 DI-level recruits.
    Maybe I’ll get to the academic reasons later but for now I have to clock out.

  4. Ian

    chm- amazing commentary.
    GFWD – Have to disagree with you about Mr. Baddour, I think he’s been truly excellent over the last decade of ups and downs. Can’t imagine how intense his job must have been.

  5. Steven Comfort

    It’s a lot easier put together a top basketball team (where you need 5-7 good players) than it is a football team (where you need at least 20).
    Baddour got a raw deal, but stood by his Coach (Butch is not named in the NCAA violations, but should be held responsible for the actions of his Associate Head Coach). This will severely hurt the Blue Zone project, and could have a negative ripple effect on non-revenue sports…
    Go Heels!

  6. Neva

    I second Savannah. Never cared about the football. It was all about sneaking in the booze, and wearing a cool outfit. Hat? Boots?
    I’m not sure I even noticed there were players out there.
    I know, that’s really sad to admit isn’t it?

  7. jje

    “This will severely hurt the Blue Zone project, and could have a negative ripple effect on non-revenue sports…”
    This is what has me most upset today. Apparently big donors are rescinding their support of that damn expansion project (which I saw firsthand on Monday – it’s a PALACE) and that means the AD may have to decimate non-rev sports in order to finish paying for it. After spending several years interviewing and writing stories about the non-rev student-athletes and coaches, who are 9 times out of ten the most amazing people you will ever meet and doing their sport for the love of the game, I am heartbroken to think of what little they get being yanked out from under them because of this outrageous debacle. I’m also pissed at the donors who are missing the forest for the trees.
    Lastly, I’m super sad because I’ve been a huge fan of Thorp and hate seeing the shine rub right off his apple. :-(

  8. AJay

    “I am heartbroken to think of what little [the non-revenue athletes] get being yanked out from under them because of this outrageous debacle. I’m also pissed at the donors who are missing the forest for the trees. ”
    So how do donors punish Thorp and / or the BOT while not affecting the non-revenue athletes. That’s a shame in all of this, for sure, that in order to punish Thorp for his ineptitude, there are negative side-effects, but how do you make a significant difference except for withholding money?


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