"Kentucky is the ugly truth the NCAA wants to hide, and Duke is the hysterical lie they hide it with."
It's a funny stream of consciousness you've got to maintain when you maintain your love of big-time university sports. UD has always called the student, alumni, and faculty dupes of campus football and basketball Blanche DuBoises, people who know they live in a whorehouse but don't want to hear about it. "Turn that over-light off! Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare."
It's confusing, because sports are supposed to be about hard sharp reality, the academic side of things about soft vague theories. University people have their heads in the clouds; gridiron people butt heads.
Yet the irony of being an actually university-educated person - someone like Slate's Matt Feeney - is that you've been trained to think things like this through and come out with the truth of the matter.
At the core of Feeney's Confessions, Paradise Lost, and Illusions Perdues is a precise analysis of DuBoisism, one person's account of his descent into and recovery from the lived lie. As a grad student at Duke, he Paternoed Coach Mike Krzyzewski:
Young Lacanians and Derrideans, honing their hermeneutic chops under Fredric Jameson and Stanley Fish, could be found cheering alongside preppy, heteronormative undergrads at local bars. Coach K made this possible. College basketball was notoriously corrupt, and college sports in general were a problem on several levels, and sharing Final Four ecstasies with those undergrads could make you feel a little funny, if you thought too much about it. But, on Coach K’s authority, we let ourselves join in on the self-celebration. He was a different sort of college coach. The exception. The ideal.
UD won't pursue the layers of irony here - while cheering one hot team, Feeney helped make up the fan base of another notorious recruitment exercise - but will instead note the heavy-going on-field actuality Feeney was able to suppress:
[Coaches are] people whose jobs depend on a wide array of legal scams and sanctioned loopholes: the slippery promises of recruiting, degraded standards in admissions and academics, eligibility schemes that shunt players into gut classes but leave them far from any degree when their scholarships run out. And, for many coaches, there are the seven-figure contracts and rich sponsorship deals they take for themselves as they bask in the legal and sentimental light of amateurism, and also in the cultural authority of the universities whose standards they corrupt... The ideal coach is the main prop in a whole structure of overcompensation. Cheerleaders randomly kicking the air, brightly grinning at nothing in particular. Student sections athrob with bunny-hopping undergrads. Color commentators gushing about kids competing for the love of the game. Slow pans of ivied quadrangles. And, crucially, brassy pep bands drowning out vague thoughts of recent arrests and altered grades, the coach’s bloated contract, his unique record of malfeasance, other things known only as “irregularities,” all those doubts that a skeezy contraption like the NCAA is fit to judge what’s irregular, and, finally, the suspicion that the real problem is what’s regular.
Having, with the help of Penn State, found himself fully aware inside of a whorehouse, Feeney now proposes that we do a sort of Las Vegas, a sort of Italy, on big-time college sports. Las Vegas is scum city, but we've been able to find that scintillating. Italy, scum paese, boasts bubbly Silvio Berlusconi. Do you like Carl Hiassen's novels about Florida? Do you like reality tv? Do you delectate Donald Trump?
Perhaps, then, our new coaching ideal should be [John] Calipari, a man hired to lead one of college basketball’s greatest programs despite an almost comically sordid coaching history.
If instead of resisting Stanley Kowalski's rape, Blanche DuBois had said to herself Way comically sordid! Let's lie back and enjoy this. she'd have attained the enlightenment Feeney has in mind.
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