I Love My University, But I am No Longer a Fan
I didn’t attend the game, but on Saturday, November 15, 1975 I became an ardent Tar Heel fan. On that day, UNC hosted the Soviet Union in an exhibition basketball game at Carmichael Auditorium. The Soviets had defeated the United States in a controversial game at the Munich Olympics in 1972, and Dean Smith, coach of the Tar Heels, was slated to be the US coach for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. I was just beginning to prepare outlines for my first semester exams in law school, but my roommate insisted that I needed to watch the Heels play on television. I was hooked as the Heels beat the Soviets by four points.
Over the years, it didn’t matter where the money management business took me. I was a Tar Heel fan. My childhood love of the Mets, Knicks, Rangers, and Giants faded to Carolina Blue. Over the years as November approached, I eagerly anticipated the start of another season. I was curious to see how the freshman would perform, and how the coach would adapt the style of play to the talent at hand.
When we moved back to Chapel Hill, I was eager to attend some games at the Dean E. Smith Center and spend a few fall afternoons watching football at Kenan Stadium. And for the first several years, I enjoyed Tar Heel sports. I even managed to sneak in a few games at Cameron Indoor Stadium where the Duke Blue Devils play.
On Friday, the Tar Heels open the 2013-2014 season, and I will no longer be a Tar Heel fan. While I can still remember the names of most of the players on the 1975-76 team, I would be hard-pressed to name more than a couple of players on this year’s team. I haven’t seen the football team play at Kenan Stadium or on television, and it’s not because they’re having a bad year. I don’t expect to attend a basketball game and will not rearrange my schedule to watch the Heels on television as I have in the past.
My enjoyment of the Tar Heels didn’t disappear overnight. It has faded over the last several seasons. The first scrimmage of the basketball season became “Late Night with Roy,” a salute to the coach rather than the players. When players shoot free throws, I noticed the corporate logos reflecting off the hardwood instead of focusing on the game. While the elite players have been leaving their college teams for the NBA for several decades, good players seemed to be making the jump as well. And in Chapel Hill, we had a steady stream of players transferring to other schools. When I looked at the Tar Heel uniform, I saw the Nike swoosh rather than Carolina blue.
This past summer, P.J. Hairston, a junior guard, was twice stopped for speeding and charged with reckless driving and marijuana possession. The marijuana charge was dropped. In both instances he was driving a rental car provided by a convicted felon. Although Coach Williams suspended him over the summer, P.J. Hairston was on the court again as practice began. The morning after the opening scrimmage, the News & Observer reported that P.J. Hairston received the biggest ovation from the fans. Coach Williams is waiting for the NCAA to determine how long he will be suspended during this season. As the regulator of college sports, the NCAA makes our federal financial regulators look like models of consistency and fairness. While our government agencies have been starved of cash, the NCAA has the money to do things the right way. Their investigations and penalties are decidedly arbitrary and aimed at the least powerful in collegiate athletic hierarchy.
As a member of the NCAA, UNC has to abide by the NCAA’s disciplinary rules. However, UNC shouldn’t be waiting for the NCAA to rule on P.J. Hairston, and the penalty should have been harsher than a summertime suspension. UNC should have suspended P.J. Hairston for the entire season and told him to spend the year focusing on his studies. This is no longer a basketball program I care to support. Regrettably, the UNC football program has it is own tales of woe over the last several years, just as it was completing another major expansion of Kenan Stadium.
As I look across the newly expanded ACC, I don’t see a whole lot to root for. Just about every football and basketball program is wrapped in corporate logos, surrounded by luxury boxes, and managed by coaches and athletic directors who make huge salaries. A few of the players are auditioning for coveted professional positions, and the rest of them are a disposable supporting cast. It’s nice to pretend that they are student athletes, because it makes us feel better. However, we’re just fooling ourselves.
It’s possible that I was just naïve back in 1975, and that I didn’t want to see the huge contradictions imbedded in Tar Heel sports. However, for more than thirty years I thought I could tell the difference between a professional and a college sports event, especially in Chapel Hill. Not anymore.
I am still a sports fan, but I prefer to watch the NBA and NFL because they are more honest about their product and purpose.