Fourth and Long
Before reading this you must understand that I am writing it on Wednesday morning before the “Battle of Tobacco Road” or “Battle of the Blues” as some refer to it.
I have long said that the UNC-Duke men’s basketball rivalry is not only the greatest in all of college basketball, but the greatest in all of sports.
I am certain many Yankee and Red Sox fans will not agree. Ohio State and Michigan fans (particularly the Buckeye I married) along with Alabama and Auburn fans probably won’t share my assessment either however I support my argument with the following facts.
First and foremost the proximity is unlike any other rivalry in sports. Despite being on two separate worlds culturally, Duke and UNC’s campuses are separated by a mere eight miles. This takes the old saying “keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer” to a whole different level.
As mentioned above the two schools are perceived very differently. Duke is a highly regarded private university. It is incredibly expensive to attend and is home to some of the smartest and wealthiest young men and women in America.
The University of North Carolina is America’s oldest public university. While also highly regarded as one finest providers of higher learning in the world it has earned a reputation as a liberal university that prides itself on its diversity.
Ratings don’t lie. Last year’s Carolina-Duke game in early March was the highest rated regular season college basketball game since the two teams met in March of 2009. A review of the Nielsen ratings shows that this is not a phenomenon. The annual Carolina-Duke games are the highest rated regular season college basketball game almost every year.
Both teams are fairly consistently top ranked teams. North Carolina is #3 on the list of all-time winningest programs in Division I Men’s Basketball and Duke is #4. For the last 128 meetings at least one school has been ranked in the AP Top 20 or AP Top 25. This year is no exception. For the 43rd time in the series both teams are ranked in the top 10.
The most telling statistic comes from this week’s Atlantic Coast Conference press release. According the ACC, “Over the past 76 games in the celebrated series, a period that began on Feb. 23, 1980, Duke has scored 5,938 points to North Carolina’s 5,930”. It doesn’t get much closer than that.
Clearly the fact that both schools are so close yet so different makes Carolina-Duke a unique rivalry. Add to that mix the fact that both teams are consistently very good and over a long time period fairly evenly matched makes it a good rivalry.
Combine with that the fact that neither fan base really likes the other and that several times throughout the series blood has been drawn and you have the makings of an incredible rivalry, in my opinion the greatest in all of sports.
David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publications. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.