CBS Becomes Duke's Biggest Fan This Week
Oh, you think that CBS is rooting for a certain traditional NCAA men's basketball powerhouse to win on Saturday and play for the national championship on Monday night?
The network would kill two new episodes of "How I Met Your Mother" and invest in "CSI: Morgantown" to ensure that Duke beats West Virginia in the national semifinals. Heck, Bob Huggins could have the David Caruso role in the new "CSI" series if it meant that the Mountaineers were going to lose and push the Blue Devils into the prime-time title game on Monday.
Even if you hate them, you'll watch Duke. Remember this?
CBS would, most likely, re-seed the Final Four so that West Virginia and Duke weren't meeting in the semifinal. Actually, though, the people who will tune in to the title game clutching what's left of their tattered tournament pool bracket wouldn't be more interested in West Virginia than they would in Butler or Michigan State. For the casual fan, and that would be the bulk of the potential viewership on Monday, the lure would be Duke.
For those of us who really pay attention to this stuff, it doesn't really matter who wins on Saturday. We've followed men's college hoops since November and we're not going to sit and watch "Dancing With the Stars" on ABC just because Butler's playing West Virginia in the title game.
I recorded the last two Baylor games in the women's tournament. My 14-year-old son and I are enamored of 6-foot-8, shot-blocking, dunking Brittney Griner. We're not sure if the WNBA still exists. Before we finally saw Griner do something other than punch an opponent, we really only knew that San Francisco Bay area favorite Stanford was again rolling through the tourney toward a showdown game against UConn.
Oh, we knew that UConn would win that women's showdown. Because, well, UConn's women always win.
It doesn't take much to interest serious fans in a game, especially a national title game. If I'm going to stay up past midnight watching Baylor beat Duke's women just to watch Griner, then talk about it the next day, I'm going to pay attention to the men's title game even if Butler winds up playing an intra-squad on CBS at 9 p.m. on Monday.
For the fans who are really only fans of the office pool and the phrase "March Madness," CBS really needs Duke to beat West Virginia. Then, in the perfect world where Walter Cronkite once ruled the evening news and Ed Sullivan kicked butt on Sunday nights, the Blue Devils would play tiny Butler in the championship game.
Ohhhh, baby! Duke vs. Butler for the title. Imagine that?
The only thing that could be better than that for CBS would be if Dennis Hopper staggered onto the court with a half empty bottle in his hand and shouting, "Run the picket fence," during the first TV timeout.
The level of hatred aimed at Mike Kryzewski's Duke group is unrivaled.
You'll hear Duke haters comparing the program to the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys. But, really, the Blue Devils are led by a 63-year-old coach who dyes his hair jet black and leads a group of apparently harmless college kids. The Yankees and Cowboys are organizations owned by millionaires who make athletes millionaires. (Duke players don't become rich and successful until after they graduate.)
There have been brief episodes in hoop history when people who live to call sports talk radio shows and spew venom had reason to dislike Duke. For instance, Christian Laettner spent four years at Duke and he gave fans four seasons worth of reasons to grimace at the mere mention of the Blue Devils. (See the video link above. A fine, fine Laettner moment.)
The pale little point guards pulling up their trunks and pounding the court to call for more defense? OK. It was easy to dislike Bobby Hurley, Greg Pawlus and Steve Wojciechowski for attracting attention like that. And, the flops and offensive foul calls? Love it or hate it, Duke's good at it.
Still, there's no reason to despise these Blue Devils. CBS knows that.
They're nondescript hard-workers who've come to rely on loveable, 7-foot senior who spent most of his career tripping over his own feet and getting into foul trouble. The Brian Zoubek story would be heart-warming to fans who stopped hating the uniform for just a second.
One prominent ESPN personality, "The Sports Guy" Bill Simmons, couldn't actually put his hatred for Duke into words. Writer Chuck Klosterman asked him to describe why he dislikes everything about the Blue Devils and...the guy who writes 10,000-word columns and hosts wildly entertaining podcasts was speechless.
Klosterman presented a theory that most Duke haters wouldn't want to consider for a second. He suggested that Simmons and others might be guilty of reverse discrimination -- for hating Duke simply because the lineup tends to have more white kids than black kids.
Reverse discimination? Anyone?
ESPN's resident raving loon Dick Vitale long ago lost his role as No. 1 analyst. Jay Bilas, a former Duke star, is the best analyst and he's often hard on the Blue Devils. Doug Gottlieb is a brilliant in-studio analyst. Vitale just shills for the virtues of Duke...the education, the quality of the kids, the coaces and blah...blah...blah...blah...
If Vitale would stop and give West Virginia more credit, give some love to Huggins for returning to his alma mater and winning big, there'd be a little less reason to despise Duke. Hell, if he just acknowledged that lots of schools play by the recruiting rules and graduate their players...maybe the Duke vs. Anybody Else final wouldn't be all that CBS hopes for now.
Vitale should've given coach Tom Izzo's Michigan State program that same bill of purity and virtue it has earned alongside Duke. Izzo, as Vitale shouts, "Does it the right way," too. (Oh, Izzo dyes his hair as well, it's that odd looking red/brown color that really isn't on the color spectrum, but that guys his age think looks natural.)
Nobody pays nearly as much attention to any team in this Final Four field as they pay to Duke. So, CBS really wants the Blue Devils to beat West Virginia on Saturday. (Some of us would also want Duke to cover the spread, er, if online wagering was legal.)
Ironically, many Duke haters who pay attention only to demean Duke will root hard against the Blue Devils on Saturday...then ignore Monday's finals if the Dukies lose. Who cares about West Virginia and Michigan State? (...or Butler...and, honest, that's not how I feel...really...)
In an effort to help CBS create a bit more positive mojo for the Blue Devils, there are reasons to (at least briefly) love Duke. They're chronicled:
Until Saturday night, CBS is going to be hoping and praying that Zoubek's dream half-season continues and that the 3-pointers fall against West Virginia's zone just like they did down the stretch against Baylor.
------ Ted Sillanpaa is a Northern California sports writer and columnist. Contact Ted at: firstname.lastname@example.org