This post concerns Duke basketball, so in a way I'm still talking about New Jersey.
If someone made a list of the men's college basketball followers who are most deserving of sympathy, at the bottom would be Duke fans. I know this. I'm a Duke alum and fan, and I know this. You will never hear me whine about how Duke is treated. I watch the games -- well, some of them -- and I notice we get some curious calls. (The fact that I can watch the games at all is impressive, seeing as how I no longer live on the East Coast.) Our famous coach stars in TV commercials for Sony, American Express, and Chevrolet. His recruiting is basically an easy sell to high school All-Americans. (You could argue that they become All-Americans because they sign with Duke; I wouldn't disagree.) And, in the past 25 years, I don't believe we were ever underseeded in the NCAA tournament.
But in one respect we are the victims of our own success. Case in point: Dick Vitale. He seems like a decent enough guy, and I doubt he needs to cry himself to sleep at night to counterbalance his on-air enthusiasm, but does he have to call so many Duke games? It seems unfair to other commentators that he gets to attend these games and not really comment on them. An environmentalist at heart, he recycles his previous material and, when pressed for new material, coins phrases and creates random categories in order to rate personal faves. Get him started on an all-time ranking of some sort and he's set for the rest of the game. (And I thought I was a compulsive listmaker.) Jill Reston of the College Hoops Gazette provides a good example of Vitale's stream of consciousness here. He is a trademarker's dream and a transcriber's nightmare.
This is all you need to know about Dick Vitale: he loves Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Kansas. That's it. Sure, he may have an opinion about other schools and players, NCAA rules, and even the NBA, but his sphere of interest is limited to those four schools. The recent campaigns of Illinois, Stanford, and Saint Joseph's? Titles by Syracuse and Connecticut? Michigan State's 4 trips to the Final Four in 7 years? He didn't care. If teams from those four schools ever managed to make the Final Four together (three of them did it in 1991 and 1993), he'd ditch ESPN and sign with CBS so fast that he'd lose his glass eye en route.
I'm in a weird position. I like Duke basketball, dislike Dick Vitale's omnipresence, and don't pretend to understand the game well enough to watch it with the mute button pressed. I need, and want, to hear the game. Right now I enjoy the games he doesn't call -- like today's game at Clemson -- and keep up with others online. On the occasion that I watch a game he calls, I try not to listen to him. But I can't avoid hearing him. Can't he venture out of the ACC and call some Kentucky and Kansas games? Just asking.
I must admit that some of the fault goes to the younger versions of myself and other alumni: the Cameron Crazies. They encourage Dick Vitale. He feeds off their energy. Unless one or the other is stopped, I continue to weep for the future.
Oh, a final note: Duke is the best men's college basketball team in the country, but I'm still not sold on the notion that they're the best hoops team on their own campus.