On April 6th, 2015, the Duke University Men's Basketball team won their fifth National Championship under head coach Mike Krzyzewski by defeating the University of Wisconsin, 68-63. For most fans familiar with college basketball, the title is just another piece of gold for Duke to make room for in the trophy cabinet. Duke haters have also been fed another controversial call to watch on repeat for decades to come.
Hard to imagine three refs watching that clip for minutes and still coming away thinking Wisconsin was the last to touch the ball. Yet, Duke got the ball, Duke got the win, and Duke got the title. It's the same story that's been told since the mid-80s, and people can't stop re-hashing it. Perhaps because every successful team is Duke, or at least, half of Duke.
No, not every school is a carbon copy, complete with clones of Christian Laettner and Shane Battier. Quite the opposite, in fact. Duke is less special than ever. At this point, the hatred built up from years of animosity is the team's most distinguishing trait, beyond any players or schemes. Think about it: what did this year's Duke team, and only this year's Duke team, do to earn any hate?
Is it because they win? A lot of teams win. They might not be winning now, but they're going to win at some point. That's the whole point of sports. I know it's not necessarily fun to watch the same teams competing for the championship all the time, but this college athletics, after all. The rich always get richer, often facing their toughest challenges from aberrations, often in the form of mid-major teams that have one really, really good player (think Stephen Curry at Davidson or Jimmer Fredette at BYU). Sure, those schools don't usually win the whole tamale, but they achieve a level of success so much higher than anything they have before, that the fans feel like they've won the title. College sports will always have its powers, and the best you can hope for is a Cinderella story for your school.
Is it because they recruit the best players? So would you if you ran a team. Don't hate Duke because they get the highest-ranked recruits, and don't hate the recruits for continuing to ensure they get to play on the biggest stages, with the best equipment, with the best coaches, and with the best chance to win a championship and get drafted early. Multiple generations of players have learned the lessons early about marketability and creating a path to success. If you're a five-star player, you're damn right you're going to a five-star school, with a five-star coach, with a five-star TV deal. The blueprint has been perfected, and the only times when it fails is when the players don't live up to the expectations, even when the expectations are too high. But hey, that's usually the fans' fault, right?
Most people rooted for Wisconsin in the championship games, because compared to Duke, Wisconsin is that scrappy Cinderella team. They hadn't been to a title game since 1941. They aren't from the Big East or the ACC, their coach isn't one of the most well-known, and their players are low-profile enough to not have had their school decision aired on ESPNU. But you know what? They're a major power, just like Duke. They may not have won the title or make regular appearances in the Final Four, but they're a tournament mainstay. Take a look at Wisconsin's record since 2001, when Bo Ryan took over as head coach:
Now take a look at Duke's record in the same timespan:
While Duke may have titles to their name, the overall results aren't much different. In fact, Duke has been bounced in the first round more often than Wisconsin, including last year when the Badgers made it to the Final Four. On top of that, Duke has made it to the Sweet Sixteen ten times, while Wisconsin has made it eight. The differences between these teams is not as great as it seems, and it shows how fickle both the media and sports fans can be when it comes to determining who the "good guys" are and who the "bad guys" are.
Duke wasn't born. Duke was made. Through recruiting, through boosters, through mass media, Duke became the school we know now. The evil empire. Just like North Carolina, just like Kentucky, and just like Kansas, Duke can live with your hate. Mike Krzyzewski can look in the mirror every morning, and have a clean conscience. Because all these powerhouse schools are doing the same thing your school is doing. The same thing South Carolina is doing. They're just doing it better than your school is.
Because they're winning. And you hate it.