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Rivalry Loses Some Oomph After UNC Scandal

The old joke is UNC stands for University of Noted Cheaters. Only now it's not a joke and it's not funny.

Nov 15, 2014; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe (C) runs onto the field prior to the game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Nov 15, 2014; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe (C) runs onto the field prior to the game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Normally we get geeked up about Duke playing UNC in anything. Tiddly winks and horseshoes? Let's rumble. But we can't really do that. Not now.

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The other day we looked back at the years of the UNC paper classes, which pretty much coincided with the nadir for Duke football. Of those games, Duke won one and UNC vacated two. Otherwise, the rest go to UNC.

In plain English, North Carolina cheated for all of those victories. We're not buying the notion that no one knew. The frat houses knew. If the frat boys knew enough to grab a minor in AFAM, then we're not buying that the coaches didn't know. It just doesn't wash. Of course they knew.  We believe they maintained plausible deniability, but they had to have known.

And the broader university? That's harder to say. Deborah Crowder ran the scam, that much is clear, and Julius Nyang'oro allowed it. He was chairman of the AFAM department for a remarkable 20 years, during which time the university provided zero oversight. The department was essentially ignored to the point where a secretary could create false classes and pass out grades to athletes.

The whole thing is shameful but most shameful of all is this: there is a lot of potential for this department to do great things and to train scholars who are capable of brilliant research. Instead, it was utterly ignored and used to exploit athletes - many of them African-American - which just sort of explains the significance the university placed on AFAM studies: none.

The University of North Carolina has a very proud history when it comes to fighting racism, but the complete lack of interest in this department, which was left to its own devices, is itself a despicable form of racism.

It was never taken seriously. And now, all those people who are sincere scholars, who worked their asses off while others scammed the department, must be vetted carefully by anyone who might hire them. They will pay the price for their entire careers.

So yes, it does leave a sour taste in one's mouth that we have to compete with them after this. We doubt that any current players were involved, and obviously coach Larry Fedora inherited these problems.

We'd feel better about him if he ever acknowledged academics, but, being tone deaf, he doesn't see the importance of at least mentioning it from time to time. Like the rest of the university, he is keen to escape the scandal and to move on. It's daggum football season after all.

For us, it's particularly upsetting because while we didn't entirely buy into the UNC Way, we did think the school had some interest in academics in the athletic department. Duke and UNC have been partners in many ways when it comes to academic standards. We were proud of that: the bitter rivals worked together for higher standards and less exploitation. That seemed pretty cool.

Please don't get us wrong. We're not suggesting that Duke is always good and UNC is always bad. We know people have come through Chapel Hill and done great things in the world beyond sports. And we know that, human nature being the same everywhere, that human beings have flaws and foibles, and they don't end when someone enrolls or is employed by Duke University. Duke has had problems and issues like any other institution.

And we know that a lot of UNC fans are just anguished over this neutron bomb of a scandal.

We do think, though, that Duke makes a serious effort to see to it that athletes attend class and graduate. We wish that UNC had.

The rivalry will continue, and UNC may well win Thursday night. In an earlier time, it would have been disappointing. Now, it would just seem...wrong.

After the Wainstein Report, UNC said many of the right things and made the right noises. What we don't recall seeing is an apology to its ACC partners. The Tar Heels took the Victory Bell home and painted it baby blue in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Most of those wins were apparently posted with ineligible players. Duke, meanwhile, led the nation in most of those years in graduation rates and lost the vast majority of games it played.

An apology, specifically to the Duke players who gave up wins but not their integrity, would be nice. Vacating all the games played with ineligible players would be more substantial.

Perhaps between the accreditation agency and the NCAA something might happen, but our expectations of UNC at this point are greatly reduced.