Duke Students Aren't That in to Basketball Anymore

Why are we here again?

The internet briefly had a complete meltdown after the Duke Chronicle published a piece on how Duke was selling student tickets to the Iron Dukes, because they couldn't get enough Cameron Crazies to fill the joint of late. The nadir apparently came at the Wake Forest game a few weeks ago, where 400 seats were sold as students preferred to attend rush week activities for the Greek system.

This resulted in some wonderfully anguished letters to the editor, worth reading for comedic value alone. They also take an overly rosy view of history. I was around for the '94 to '98 seasons, and got the e-mails from griping Duke students – "Wojciechowski runs like a girl" was particularly memorable – and read the cheer sheets that had to explain the basics of ACC basketball to a bunch of Jersey kids who had no idea what was going on. And if that was all the article produced, I'd be happily amused.

Instead, it was the way the rest of the press covered the story that drove me bonkers. You'd think someone had just told sportswriters that Santa Claus wasn't real. Eamonn Brennan was horrified. DJ Gallo demanded Duke students do what he wants. Yahoo! just blamed the modern era for not making Duke unique any more.

Of course, anyone who spent time in Carmichael knew Cameron was never particularly unique, and Duke fan support has always been a bit soft. (The donation level for season tickets through the Iron Dukes is considerably less than that for the Rams Club, despite nearly twice the seating capacity of the Dean Dome. But if you want my opinion on what's changing at Duke, it's this – the Cameron Crazies are being co-opted.

Think about it. Nike sells T-shirts emblazoned with the name of the student section, suitably trademarked and be-swooshed. And for this they get the privilege of camping out, trying to pass classes in a tent, and otherwise interrupt their lives to provide a suitable backdrop for a basketball team. And if they don't cheer enough? The highest-paid university official berates them during the game.

The fans that do come to the game still identify strongly with the team. Almost too strongly, as this student quote suggests:

"I honestly can't understand why people would not want to come to the games," the 18-year-old Riley said as he waited to enter the stadium for Saturday's game with St. John's. "I know there are good reasons, but I feel like it's important. It's a big part of who we are here."

I'm guessing being free atmosphere for shoe companies and cable networks aren't as compelling a reason as they used to be. Neither is supporting players who bail after a season. Face facts. College basketball may not be as big of a thing to folks from Jersey anymore. And no amount of atmosphere-tweaking is going to fix it.

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