I can’t think of any regular-season game in any American sport that could have the sort of anticipation that Alabama-Texas A&M has. Not any regular season NFL game, not Heat-Thunder, not Ohio State-Michigan. And no, not Duke-North Carolina basketball.
In many ways, college football is a spectacle unlike anything else: for one day a week, entire towns are just preparing for the game and a whole other town travels long distances to get there.
All of this got me wondering: would I swap the success of the Duke basketball team with that of the Duke football team? Imagine a Duke football team that has won four national championships since 1990 and is seemingly a lock for a BCS game every year. Coach K could even be the coach! In his own words: “I don’t look at myself as a basketball coach. I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball.”
(Let’s take a second to imagine Coach K the football coach: after four years as the quarterback at Army, Krzyzewski would get a job as an assistant coach at Alabama under the legendary Bear Bryant. There he briefly overlapped with David Cutcliffe, then a student assistant, who would later serve as the offensive coordinator on Coach K’s first two national championship teams at Duke, led by Peyton and Eli Manning.)
Back to reality, basketball and football success are not mutually exclusive. In the Coach K Era—the demarcation for the beginning of time at Duke—two teams have won national championships in basketball and football: Michigan (football in 1997 and basketball in 1989) and Florida (football in 1996, 2006 and 2008 and basketball in 2006 and 2007). Plenty of other schools—Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisville, to name a few—have also been quite good at both sports at varying times.
But there’s one main reason why I’d never trade what we have at Duke for what Alabama and so many other top college football programs have: the intimacy of college basketball.
College football, unlike college basketball, is built on the spectacle of it all. It’s about tailgates and Tailgate, ESPN specials with Lee Corso putting on mascot heads and the biggest celebrity in sports who we’ve nicknamed Johnny Football. There’s nothing bad about any of that that—in fact, it’s quite amazing that The Big House holds more than 115,000 people and that the entire town of Ann Arbor turns blue and maize for six or seven Saturdays a year.
What’s more amazing to me, though, is that the best venue in all of sports holds only 9,314 people. The biggest college basketball venue, Syracuse’s Carrier Dome, doesn’t even hold 35,000 people.
There’s nothing like what happened this weekend when Coach K, with the entire team at his side, addressed the Duke graduate students who were out camping for games. It was nothing formal, he just casually told stories about hanging out with LeBron James, Jay-Z and Beyonce. As the kids these days say, NBD.
On game days, Krzyzewskiville is a spectacle of sorts but it’s all in anticipation of the game. When the students get inside, the most dedicated of them are within an arm’s reach of the guys on the court. Can you imagine Nick Saban bowing in gratitude to the Alabama fans the way Coach K did after Duke’s win against Ohio State last year?
Here’s a brief list of other reasons why Duke fans shouldn’t want to trade their basketball success for football glory:
- Johnny “Football” Manziel hangs out with Drake. Jay-Z and Beyonce > Drake
- Basketball has more games per season
- Basketball has a method of determining a national champion that makes sense and doesn’t incite controversy nearly every year
- There’s no slapping the floor in football
- It gets really cold at football games
- They probably still wouldn’t allow Tailgate even if Duke were really good at football
The reality is that Duke fans should hope that the recent success of the football team means that the Blue Devils will someday be on that list of teams that excel both on the hardwood and on the gridiron. And we don’t need to replace Coach Cutcliffe with Coach K because Duke is quite lucky to have somebody with Cutcliffe’s smarts and character rebuilding this program.
Perhaps I’m just a bit overexcited because graduate student campout is the Groundhog Day of Duke basketball season: the first tease of what’s actually coming in a month or two. Did I mention Duke kicks off its season in 38 days? Until then, it’s also probably worth mentioning that Duke football is still undefeated.
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