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Unlike Their Team, the Cameron Crazies Just Can’t Win

Duke’s student section finds itself under the microscope yet again

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Duke
The Cameron Crazies, following a seemingly yearly tradition, are back under the microscope once again.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Criticizing the Cameron Crazies has become a tradition almost as hallowed amongst Duke fans as K-Ville itself, with the past week bringing an added spotlight to a yearly exercise that typically falls under the radar.

First, there was a Letter to the Editor in The Chronicle criticizing student attendance against Miami. This in itself was nothing new: it’s a seemingly yearly tradition for alumni of the Crazies to find some reason to criticize the current group. But this was followed up by the strange sequence of events that caused Coach K to scold the student section mid-game against Pittsburgh, only to apologize to them personally for a misunderstanding the following day.

Now, I firmly believe no one was in the wrong when it comes to the actions during the Pittsburgh game. The Crazies’ chant was, in itself, harmless, and likely meant as a compliment to former Blue Devil Jeff Capel (a similar “Sit with us” chant is typically directed at star recruits). Coach K’s reaction to what he perceived as a mocking of Capel is also understandable, albeit extreme: had the Crazies indeed been mocking Capel, that would’ve been in very poor taste and would need to have been shut down.

But the fact remains that they weren’t. And now the yearly criticism is reaching its next stage: overreaction.

In his post-game press conference (so, after the incident but before his full apology), Coach K’s initial reaction was to put the onus more on the Crazies. His suggestion? “Let’s think of a different cheer — like ‘Defense!’”.

This isn’t the first time that Coach K has called on the Crazies to tone things down, either. As The Chronicle reported, last year he admonished the student section for highlighting a historically poor performance by N.C. State, in which the Wolfpack scored 24 points in an entire game. During my days in Durham, I wrote about an e-mail, purportedly sent by line monitors on behalf of Coach K, asking the students to be “classier” in their cheers.

But here’s the thing: we can’t have it both ways.

We can’t expect the Cameron Crazies to be the loudest, most raucous, and most well-attended student section in the country while also limiting their repertoire of chants to minor alterations of “Let’s Go Duke!” We can’t expect them to give the Blue Devils the best home-court advantage in the country, which comes largely from getting under the opposition’s skin, while also being nothing but courteous and respectful. In short, we can’t expect them to be the “Cameron Crazies” without letting them be a little “crazy”.

Now, there are clearly lines that shouldn’t be crossed. The best cheers are aimed at teams, not individual players: there’s a reason that the “Not Our Rivals!” chant against Maryland was so beloved. Similarly, it’s a touch more palatable to target the adults coaching teams rather than the young men playing (the beloved “Sweat, Gary, sweat!” chant against the Terrapins is a great example). And an individual player’s struggles on the court are certainly fair game, otherwise the “Airball!” chant would’ve fallen out of favor long ago.

Now, I don’t claim to have anywhere close to an answer as to where that “line” is, and I think that’s the point. The Cameron Crazies continue to evolve with the times, just as our opinions on what is proper etiquette in the student section is. Remember, the Crazies once chanted “Sean May eats babies!” in a game against UNC, and would serenade Maryland’s Grievous Vasquez in Spanish. Both chants might raise eyebrows in 2020, but didn’t garner much attention in the moment.

It’s time to put the yearly tradition of bashing the current crop of Cameron Crazies to rest. There will always be games that aren’t as well attended as the fans, sitting at home on their couches, might like, but I doubt any alumnus truly believes that every game during their time in Durham, no matter how poorly timed or against how subpar an opponent, had the student section packed like sardines. Similarly, as long as the chants don’t get overtly offensive, it’s time to let the Crazies be crazy, and give them some leeway to find the innovative chants that will get the opponent off of their game.

More than anything, we all need to remember that attending these games as a student is meant to be fun. And if our criticisms don’t recognize that, they can be left at the door of Cameron.