Duke Chronicle Cuffs NY Times: Cameron Crazies Not Really Always Crazy

Today’s edition of Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, makes clear that the Cameron Crazies may be spending more time on the couch than in Cameron. (“Low Attendance Forces Duke Athletics to Sell Student Seats.“) Apparently, students usually don’t pack the courtside student section we see on TV, which can seat 1,200, so that a large percentage of those seats goes unused by students, and the Athletic Department is typically actively trying to sell as many as half of those tickets to the general public.

Contrast this good reporting to the hyperventilating story just two days ago (January 22) by Laura Pappano in the New York Times, entitled, “How Big Time Sports Ate College Life.” That story continues the Times’ hyping habit as regards Duke sports — going all the way back to its’ overexaggerated, almost hysterical 2006 hyping of what the Times’ (erroneously) presumed then was a gang-rape conducted by Duke lacrosse team members — of taking a few facts out of context to build a final but unwarranted conclusion. In this case, the Times’ article ominously suggests that there has been allowed to fester at Duke a nearly out-of-control basketball mania which threatens to infect every other campus.

Compare the Chronicle’s report, for example, to this broad-brush and completely misinformed statement in the Times’ Sunday article:

“Duke’s game against North Carolina is special, but it doesn’t take much to provoke a queue for men’s basketball.”

It is difficult to imagine a statement which — in light of the facts reported by the Chronicle – could more squarely state the opposite of the truth.  Tickets are going unused by students.

Or try this one:

“Despite Duke’s ascent to basketball royalty, Cameron Indoor Stadium — built in 1940, renovated in the 1980s and at 9,300 seats one of the smallest venues for a big-time program — still gives thousands of the best seats to students.”

According to the Chronicle, 1,200 (not “thousands”) of seats are reserved for students. And, also according to the Chronicle, anywhere between one-quarter to one-half of those tickets go unused on any given game day (with the exception of the Carolina game.)

These may seem minor points, but they’re not. First of all Pappano’s Times’ article gives  the reader the clear suggestion she has identified here a phenomenon of thousands of pulsating Duke student “crazies”who, it would appear, abandon all reason, classes, textbooks and other earthly pursuits to pack Cameron for every game. That’s just plain false, and the reporting is sloppy.

Secondly, the Chronicle has put an end to a myth which anyone who spends time on the Duke campus would question anyway: that K-ville craziness and tenting takes over from November to March. In point of fact, Duke is one of the most academically rigorous schools in the country, and most students — as is reflected in the Chronicle’s story —  don’t go to games, and work incredibly hard. (Disclosure: I went there a long time ago, and my daughter is a student there now.) Add to this that the somewhat rampant — and pernicious –  notion that Duke is a “party school” has been, I would submit, very substantially the result of the Times’ negligent but relentless reporting of the ersatz “Lax” scandal of 2006.

Third, if the Times had done its’ homework by interviewing more students, they would’ve have known that “Big Time Sports” have come nowhere close to “Eating College Life” at Duke.  It’s stunning, for example, to find how many students are in the library there all night. There is serious, earnest academic work going on in every dorm and classroom.

Fourth, Pappano never bothered to check on the status of Duke football, which has never in its’ existence come anywhere close to “Eating Student Life.”  The football team plays before a home crowd which is, on average, at one-third the capacity of Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium — so much so that some student humorist this past fall, on the Friday before a football game, taped xeroxed sheets of paper all over the campus, with a photo of the mostly-empty Stadium, with the caption, “OCCUPY WALLACE WADE — PLEASE!”

Fifth, Pappano completely whiffs by missing the much more nuanced partial truth, which might be entitled “Small Time Sports Eat College Life”: both Duke and Williams College are somewhat unique in their status as elite academic schools nonetheless avidly committed to winning the “all-round” Sears or “Directors” Cup ( given for having the most “winning” programs in every sport.) This broad, expensive goal is one which might much more legitimately be identified as “eating into” each school’s academic excellence and achievement, and the recent focus at many schools on “winning” in “small” sports is one which is often overlooked.)

The bald truth is that Duke happens to have one of the best basketball arenas in the country, and an avid student fan base.  It comes nowhere close to “Eating” college life at Duke.

The Times again owes Duke another affirmative apology and some factual corrections, in article which might be entitled, “Big Time Newspaper Eats Crow – Again.

About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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