Now Playing: Willin’ by Little Feat. “I’ve been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet, Had my head stoved in, but I’m still on my feet, And I’m still… willin.'”
I love football. It might be my favorite sport these days. I haven’t missed more than a handful of Panthers games either in person (I covered the team for its first two seasons) or on television. And I’m the kind of fan who is always wildly optimistic about his team’s chances. Even this year, I think the Panthers could surprise and make the playoffs, despite all the veterans they’ve jettisoned (frankly, I agreed with all the moves except cutting Damione Lewis and trading Chris Harris).
But I’m not feeling so good about my beloved Tar Heels right now.
It didn’t start out that way. With all the talent we had coming back, particularly on defense, I thought this would be a watershed season – particularly if we had some luck with injuries and got a break or two along the way.
But now it looks like a watershed season for a different reason. My university’s reputation is on the line.
First off, I strongly believe in innocent until proven guilty. And no one apparently has been proven guilty yet. But there are allegations of academic fraud, apparently involving a tutor who worked for coach Butch Davis.
I’ll be honest. I haven’t been bothered too much by the initial investigation of the Carolina program. Worried about losing players, certainly. But not angered or saddened. The initial NCAA investigation apparently – if the leaks and rumors are to be believed – around plane trips taken by a couple of players that were paid for by former players who now play professionally. If that’s a violation, it’s a pretty lame one. The guys who got the tickets turned down millions to return to school this year. For that, they’ve been the subject of seemingly never-ending speculation by the NCAA and its goons. (This is the same NCAA that licenses images of players to video-game makers and makes a ton of money off of it, with not a cent of it going back to the athletes.) At worst, it’s a technical violation of a stupid rule, especially when you consider that a Nebraska player who just turned pro bought iPads for every member of the team this year. And to great praise. Kinda hard to see the difference, frankly.
I’m much more upset about the potential academic fraud. Any player who participated should be punished. Any coaches that knew about it should be fired.
I’d rather lose every game with legit students than go 12-0 with a buncha cheaters. Actually, I’d rather go 2-10 (kinda like to beat the dookies and the Wolpfack (this misspelling is on purpose and if you’re a true fan, you’ll know why). But you get the picture.
Nobody’s guilty yet, of course, on either part of the investigation. And if just a handful of players are involved, we can still have a good season. I think we’ve got pretty good backups at every position.
Normally, basketball provides a refuge for any concerns about UNC sports. We had a subpar year last year, compounded by the dookies winning it all with the easiest path to the championship ever. But we’ve got some reinforcements coming in this year, and I think we’ll be very good.
But there’s a shadow over UNC hoops, too. That shadow is the declining health of Dean Smith, one of my personal heroes. I’ve talked before about my admiration for him as a coach and a man.
And it has really hurt this year as reports of his diminished mental capacity have leaked out. I think we all knew Dean was declining. He has been silent on so many occasions that it didn’t seem right. It wasn’t.
And it hurts.
But I’ll always remember Dean and how he did the right thing. And never got too down because of a loss. Or too high because of a win. And had his own personal flaws (smoking). He’ll always be one of my heroes, and he’s the base of what I think UNC sports should be. And once was. And hopefully will be again.