We celebrate 300 posts with...women's basketball?
The Lady Vols head to Duke on Monday night, for their third visit to Cameron Indoor and the Crazies, who are on full display for the women as well in games like this one. Last year the Lady Dukies came into Thompson-Boling and fought off the Lady Vols and Bruce Pearl's painted man chest, and got the W.
So the article from today's News-Sentinel says it all, but Pat Summitt is asking/warning the Cameron Crazies to lay off Alexis Hornbuckle, under threat that the Lady Vols will cancel the series. Two years ago at Duke, the Crazies chanted "Wal-Mart!" at Hornbuckle and waved plastic Wal-Mart bags, in reference to Hornbuckle's shoplifting incident at the world's largest retailer. Hornbuckle responded with a terrible game.
If you read the comments with the article on govols.com, this isn't one of those middle ground issues. Some people are giving Summitt the customary pat on the back and congratulating her for "being above something like this". Everyone else is saying what a terrible idea this was to begin with. When the natives are restless, you don't pour fuel on the fire.
If I was as crazy about Duke as I am about Tennessee, and I read this article this morning and heard the opposing coach say that, I'm going for blood on Monday night. I'm going to find a way to go directly at Summitt. I'm going to be even louder and even more personal. This isn't a discussion about the ethics of the Cameron Crazies - this is a statement about what's going to happen now on Monday night. Pat Summmitt didn't make this better, she just made it much worse.
Now, there's a remedy, of course - winning. If the Lady Vols come into what would've already been a hostile environment, and now even more so, and they get the W, all the talk doesn't matter. And Summitt will be free to cancel the series - although let's say this, sometimes I wonder if it doesn't seem to the outside world that Summitt and the Lady Vols are playing bigger than the game itself. Didn't like something UConn did, canceled the series. Even though it was the very best thing women's basketball had going. Even though ESPN GameDay was going to show up in Knoxville for it this season. Now we don't like something Duke might do, and we threat to cancel another incredibly important series. Pat Summitt has won seven national championships, more games than anyone else, and has forgotten more about basketball than I'll ever know. But even she's not bigger than the sport itself, and no matter how much she and Geno can't get along...and no matter how personal the Crazies can be...her actions in "defending" the Lady Vols and threatening to cancel series are hurting women's college basketball.
(It's funny when people here in southwest Virginia talk about Summitt, because they have an incredible respect for her...but they also mention that they'd be too afraid of her to dislike her.)
I wonder if Duke felt disrespected when Bruce Pearl stole the show at their game last season? And if they did, they took the right course of action: they beat the Lady Vols. And even though everyone only wanted to talk about Pearl the next day, the win was still more important.
The Crazies won't have singular attention Monday night, because they're the Crazies and this is what they do. And sure, they have a level of premeditation that few other schools possess. But Vol fans at Thompson-Boling can be personal off the cuff as well. Earlier this month, they chanted "USA! USA!" at Vanderbilt's AJ Ogilvy (who comes from the land down under)...which made me laugh, but still didn't feel right. And I've never heard a better combination of simplicity and effectiveness than the "NO-AH'S UG-LY! (clap clap clapclapclap)" chant they unleashed on Joakim last season. This is simply what a student section in major college basketball does. You can say it's not right or it crosses the line, but that's not going to change it.
Threatening the Crazies to tone it down or else is a terrible idea. You've just made it worse, and now you'd better win. It's going to be louder and probably more personal, and even more so if you lose. And even if the Duke coaching staff and administration asks the Crazies to tone it down, it comes across like the Lady Vols are the ones who can't handle it, or the only ones special enough to get a pass - which will again make it easier to say that Summitt and the Lady Vols are acting bigger than the game itself, and hurting women's college basketball. If you don't like it, shut them up by beating them. Period. That's the first and best course of action...and hopefully, that's the one the Lady Vols will unleash Monday night, no matter what the crowd is - or isn't - saying.