Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Attaboy" and a slap on the back for Dan Kane

Back in May, I wrote a story titled “Citizen Kane” which ran on a Raleigh website for creative writers. Basically, I said the readership of The News & Observer day-by-day was less and less interested in the writings of reporter Dan Kane who has been pounding on the “administration/academic/athletics scandal” at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for several years. The parting paragraph of that story I wrote in May was: The newspaper seems to be growing old by its own pen. You can only yell but so many times that all is rotten in the state of UNC and expect to keep your readership interested.

Well, excuse me, but, just recently, Kane’s persistence surely had to cause a jump in circulation. I have no facts to back up that thought, but, with the findings of the recently released Wainstein Report that found misdeeds involving administration, academics and athletics at UNC for at least 18 years, Kane’s effort must be praised, or at the very least he should receive an attaboy and a slap on the back. His persistence paid off. He followed a smoking gun and found fire, a blaze that will take years to put out. The only thing Kane couldn’t do is to get the culprits to fess-up about their wrong-doing and that’s because he had no way of prosecuting his way to the truth.

It’s been a long, drawn out effort by Kane and several fellow staff writers at the N&O that could result in an award for investigative journalism. (The N&O calls then the "I-team.")He’s still not appreciated by Tar Heels around the world, but the students majoring in journalism at UNC-CH and those teaching that curriculum should be impressed with his effort, but maybe not the subject thereof.

So, where does the story go from here? Is it over? My guess is that it’s far from over. Kane’s digging and reporting could go on as long as his boss desires. And here’s part of the reason why. There are indications Deborah Crowder, a central figure in the academic scam, used her enthusiasm for men’s basketball and her influence on campus to help basketball players scam classes at UNC since 1982. Her friend Burgess McSwain was the UNC men’s basketball academic advisor since the mid-1960s. The honorable and legendary Dean Smith was head basketball coach. He retired from the job after the 1996-97 season, a year after the reported and admitted starting date of the mischievous activities. So from about 1982 until 1997, there was a straight line that included Smith, McSwain and Crowder. In 1997, what had been informal became formal, at least according  to the Wainstein Report.

Some officials, pundits, observers and fans, especially the non-light blue-type fans, believe Smith had to know what was going on in the way of easy grading before and after the 1997 benchmark. Smith has pretty much always been an outspoken critic of those who judged of his players by a SAT score. Smith said many times that the SAT is not indicative of the ability of the student to achieve academically. Really?!?! Maybe if Chris Washburn, the 1984-86 Wolfpack basketball player with a SAT of below 500 who then Chancellor Bruce Poulton personally approved for admission to NC State University in 1984, had gone to UNC-CH…maybe Washburn would have graduated with honors. Smith’s program had a “system” that it followed to success. Did that include preferential academic treatment for his players? Kane should ask that question.

What about John Swofford, current commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference? He was the UNC Athletics Director 1980-97, leaving the same year Smith retired. What did Swofford know and when did he know it? He left UNC for the greener pastures of the ACC and escaped the crime committed by Crowder and others. Kane should call Swofford at least to get a denial and no-comment.

Is there more to the story? Yes, and there’s no way that Dan Kane will put down his pen, quit making calls, and stop writing about the UNC Scandal. It is doubtful Kane will move on to some other subject. My guess is he’s still on the case and will follow it through the NCAA’s review of the enlightening and damaging (to UNC-CH) Wainstein Report.  Good for Kane and good The N&O. For all the criticism of Kane I’ve dished out over the last few years, I’m here to withdraw it all. Congratulations, Dan. You were (and are) just doing your job. Attaboy!

Friday, October 10, 2014

All things considered, the joke's on you, Dave!

NC State football coach Dave Doeren is not known for having a sense of humor, at least not publicly. Behind closed doors and with friends, there’s a slim possibility he may have a gregarious personality. But, from listening to him since he was selected to lead the Wolfpack football program, I do not see any sort of sense of humor in the man. He’s made some outlandish comments, but none seem to be funny.

His latest bizarre statement which he said was a joke was about scheduling. He targeted Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford, former UNC-Chapel Hill quarterback and director of athletics. “You’d never know that somebody that graduated from the school down the street is the commissioner. I mean, you would never know that with our schedule,” Doeren said on his radio show. The next day he said the comment was made in jest. “I mean, it’s a radio show; we’re allowed to laugh and have fun,” he told a News & Observer scribe.

His comment about Swofford and scheduling was specifically referring to the Wolfpack’s back to back games against Florida State and Clemson, the former an exciting close one for which, to their credit, Doeren and his staff were able to elevate the players and game plan to nearly defeat the top-ranked Seminoles, but the latter an embarrassment to NC State fans worldwide. During the Wolfpack's first five possessions at Clemson, State had only 19 plays of which four were punts and one that appeared to be a Statue of Liberty call for a Clemson player to grab the ball from the Wolfpack quarterback’s hand and score a touchdown. Not rallying the players to perform two straight weeks at a top level is not a scheduling issue. It’s bad coaching.

Doeren, now in his second season, didn’t get off to a glowing start with State fans when he berated the faithful for vacating the stadium after the first half of its 2013 season opening 41-14 win against Louisiana Tech. It was hot, the Pack was up comfortably and in no danger of losing, and there was much more fun to be had tailgating. To his credit, he kept the State throngs inside Carter-Finley Stadium the following week in a 23-21 squeaker against…get this…Richmond, a team the Pack should defeat along the same lines as La Tech. The entire season was either no joke or a complete comedy as State won one more game and ended the year 3-9. Of course, it was a talentless team, we're told.

After last year—talent or no talent; injuries or no injuries—most fans should prefer Doeren to stay serious and win games instead of trying to make jokes. He has at his disposal, especially with the indoor practice building that’s under construction, maybe the best overall facilities in the ACC and better than most colleges everywhere. He and his staff are paid out-of-line salaries just as are most football (and basketball) coaches. Soon, the players will be paid, legitimately, in some form or fashion. There’s no justification for bad play-calling, dropped passes, or attempts at humor to take away from on-the-field failings. College football is a serious business; Doeren should remain serious until he posts 10 or 11 wins a year. Then he can be funny, if he can be funny.

He also needs to keep it civil. After this season’s Florida State game, he complained about the Seminoles faking injuries to slow the Wolfpack’s hurry-up offensive. Please, Dave, don’t tell us in all your time coaching you’ve not tried that at least once or twice. Say what you want, but complaining about perceived fake injuries and tough scheduling will not take away from short-comings on the field. I was at the Florida State game and also was upset at those slow-downs. You can be too but publically complaining is not necessary. Along with the scheduling “joke,” your comments about the fake injuries made you a whiner, and we know most whiners are at other schools. The all-time chief whiner is Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, and heaven forbid you try to compete with him in that category.

Now, let’s get back to the schedule and joking about Swofford. State fans love to complain about Swofford because once a Tar Heel, always a Tar Heel, but rest assured he does not go out of his way to screw the Wolfpack. By “joking” the way Doeren did, the joke is on Doeren. He says it was a joke (if you have to explain something is a joke, then it probably wasn’t a joke), but it was a rallying cry for Wolfpackers to use as an excuse for losing those two games, especially for the lopsided whatever-that-was at Death Valley. With top facilities and excellent academics at NC State, there should be no excuses for performance off or on the football field. We win, yeah! We lose, forget about it and move on to the next game. It’s just football, not life or death.

Is playing back to back (seven days apart) against Florida State and Clemson fair to NC State? Probably not and neither is playing in the same ACC Atlantic division with those two and Louisville. But that’s the way it goes if you are a member of the one of the Gang of Five conferences. The Atlantic division may be the toughest this year, and next year the Coastal could have the stronger teams. The solution is not to complain and lobby for a schedule to fit your desire. The solution is to recruit better, coach better and win your games. Complaining about fake injuries and back to back tough games is not the explanation for or way out of losing.

By the way Dave, in case you’ve not considered the entire 2014 schedule, the Wolfpack’s top rival game at North Carolina is November 29 with an open date the week before which is right after a game at Wake Forest. The Tar Heels play at their top rival, Duke, Thursday of the week State has the open date, and that game against the Blue Devils is just five days after a home game with Pittsburgh. So, the Wolfpack will have five more days of rest than Carolina before going to Chapel Hill. If that’s not enough, Dave, you’ll probably have the opportunity to ask Swofford if he can move the game to a later date because he’ll likely be in Kenan Stadium that day, cheering for his alma mater.