Duke gets a lot of coverage because of you

Jan 06, 2016 : An unhappy Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski during the regular season matchup between Wake Forest and Duke at Lawrence-Joel Memorial Coliseum in Winston Salem,NC. Blue Devils win 91-75 over the Demon Deacons. (Photo by Jim Dedmon/ Icon Sportswire)
Jim Dedmon/Icon Sportswire

Hell have no fury like the scorn that is college basketball fans complaining about too much Duke Blue Devils coverage.

There’s this weird idea people have when discussing how media companies cover certain topics. From LaVar Ball to Duke to Tim Tebow, people believe they are being force-fed content they don’t actually want. To a degree, usually when that topic hits the point of oversaturation, these people might be right.

At the starting point, however, they are fundamentally wrong.

Media Company X doesn’t pick talking points out of thin air. Using data and the history of human preferences as a launching point, whatever topic fans believe is being jammed down their throats is being done for a reason — they want it… at least at the start.

Discussions surrounding people can and often do run dry, going long beyond the point of people caring. There are only so many Tebow/LaVar/Jimmer stories a network can run before the audience screams enough.

This usually does not apply to teams, however, especially when the team remains relevant.

Unlike specific people, teams are always evolving. The rosters rarely stay the same, sometimes a head coach leaves, and in the land of unpaid laborers performing for our entertainment, one team last year can look totally different this year.

There’s almost always something new to be discussed, and the ownership a fan takes in his/her favorite college basketball program is next-level scary.

As for the Blue Devils specifically, the reaction to Marvin Bagley III committing to Coach K is not all that shocking.

Journalists are taking the hyperbolic road by calling Duke the clear-cut favorite to win it all in 2017-18; fans are declaring this the best incoming group of freshmen the Blue Devils ever had (a sentiment, mind you, that was made this time last year); and a plethora of non-Duke fans are mad that all the attention is being hurled toward the Blue Devils instead of their favorite team.

Let’s ignore the hilarity of people being upset at mass-coverage of a top-two recruit committing to one of the best programs in the history of college basketball. If one is upset over that, there’s no saving him or her.

As for the understanding of why Duke gets so much coverage, it dates back to an era we should all wish we grew from (though recent events suggest we haven’t).

Duke largely grew to become a national household name directly opposite the rise of Georgetown and Hoya Paranoia in the mid-to-late 1980s. It was a combination of Duke’s perception as a school of entitled, white yuppies and GU being shoehorned into the role of the black rebels.

Good versus Evil this was not. It was a rather horrific narrative built around the two programs at the time, but it aided in the growth of both. It also wasn’t as one-sided in terms of negative reaction as one might think.

As Patrick Ewing heard derogatory terms yelled at him at Georgetown, we weren’t too far away from people claiming certain black players on Duke were sellouts, that (void of the context of any one person’s values) Grant Hill went to Duke and wasn’t really a member of black society.

This is when “Duke as we know it” started to emerge. Double that down when Duke went opposite the Fab Five in 1991 (in December) and 1992 (in the national championship game). Even more people began to take sides. You were either in the “Duke does things the right way” camp or the “my goodness, those guys sure act holier than thou” party.

That’s the rough starting point of “Duke” in a larger cultural sense. As it rose as an annually dominant program, so too did the idea that each Coach K roster represented all of — or a combination of — entitlement, sellouts, softies, and so on for those who hated them. If Allen Iverson was counterculture, the Blue Devils represented the culture he was rebelling against.

There’s also the birth of Dick Vitale’s growing role at ESPN. He was a fan of Coach K and Duke and championed the program as if he held stock in the university. We can argue the how obnoxious his pro-Duke sentiment is, as opposed to sincerely loving it, but it certainly played a hand in both getting the Blue Devils larger exposure and people growing tired of it.

Vitale’s love for the Blue Devils often ran into games Duke didn’t play. No matter the venue or event, if he could hurl some praise toward Coach K, he would. This created the entire “Duke and its supporters are obnoxious” idea.

To recap so far: Duke first rose to prominence as “the best culture of all” or the “right kind” of college basketball program, then had a talking head on national TV jam it down America’s throat for decades.  This enabled the Blue Devils to become one of the most polarizing basketball programs in the country, if not the most, especially when Georgetown and Big John Thompson receded from view.

Does everyone understand what, in shorthand, has been written up to this exact point in the column? The next point hinges on understanding all the previous ones. It makes understanding mass-Duke coverage very simple:

Everyone reacts to anything Duke-related for reasons already mentioned.

Mad at a few Duke columns being strung together at a national outlet? You still read and react.

Claim too much attention is being paid to the Blue Devils? Yet you’re on social media discussing how overrated they are each time a prized recruit lands on Durham’s doorstep.

And so on.

This isn’t complicated. Media networks aren’t going out of their way to avoid covering more obscure programs, nor are they not versed enough to write on cuddly mid-majors. It is simply that Duke basketball — whether for good or bad reasons — is what fans enjoy talking and reading about.

Personality-centered LaVar Ball and Tim Tebow coverage almost always dies down at some point, but until a sweeping change alters the habits of college basketball content consumers, great and polarizing programs will get the most coverage.

This should not be shocking.

Claim you want more {insert team here} coverage all you want, but there’s no evidence that national college basketball readers click on those stories, especially not on a consistent basis. For Duke, on the other hand, there’s no more tried and true method to get people talking amateur basketball than to scribble a single phrase about this polarizing program.

Joseph has been covering basketball for nearly a decade. He is the host of the Relatively Speaking Podcast and a columnist for FanRag Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.

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