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The Daily Tar Heel

COLUMN: Why a Duke-UNC title game would actually be terrible

Ryan Wilcox

Assistant Sports Editor Ryan Wilcox

Earlier this week, my esteemed colleague Jack Frederick, who I respect greatly, had a bad take. He argued that a potential Duke-UNC matchup in the NCAA championship – a first for college basketball (the two have never met in the NCAA Tournament, let alone the title game) – would be a good thing for sports, for college basketball and for the Tobacco Road rivalry. 

But I disagree. A Duke-UNC title game would be fun, then it really, really wouldn't – no matter who won, or who you chose to root for.

First, Jack is right in saying that if the Tar Heels and Blue Devils met with a championship on the line, it would instantly become a landmark in sports history, probably the highest-rated college basketball game of all time, and a true “where were you when...” moment. 

But for me, that moment would be my mom asking: "Remember that time Duke went up five points with three minutes left and your dad had a heart attack on the couch?"

Seriously, Jack, have you not considered the health risks of thousands of Tobacco Road basketball fans? I don't think my dad, or thousands of other Tar Heel followers, could handle the stress of a North Carolina blowout victory, let alone a nail-biting, back-and-forth finish.

And if Duke were to win ... I can hardly even consider the possibility. My dad might quit his job. He might go live in the wilderness, never to be heard from again. He might take up quilting. Who knows?

That's because the winner of a Duke-UNC title game, contrary to Jack's position, would have undisputed bragging rights, the likes of which we have truly never seen in sports. 

College basketball is so fickle; it's exciting when NFL divisional rivals meet in the playoffs, for example, but not exactly a rare occurrence. On the other hand, an all-Tobacco Road matchup in the NCAA Tournament has, as we've established, never happened. 

Statistically speaking, the odds of two rival teams outperforming most of their competition to make an elite field of 68 teams, then each winning five games against that elite field to face off in the national championship, are infinitesimal. If we're (un)lucky enough to see it once, it'll likely be the only time it happens for a long, long while, despite Duke and UNC consistently being two of the sport's premier programs.

As far as Jack's contention that after a Duke-UNC final, the stakes of the rivalry "would be at an all-time high for the foreseeable future," I don't think my suddenly-into-quilting dad would agree. I have friends, too, who are ardent North Carolina fans, people who didn't talk or eat for a solid week after Kris Jenkins broke the Tar Heels' hearts in 2016.

Now imagine Zion Williamson doing the same, and the confetti coming down for Duke instead of Villanova. Chapel Hill would shut down. Coach K, probably, would be elected president, or at least retire as the college basketball GOAT. In a debate for Tobacco Road superiority, there would be no contest.

That's not to say that a North Carolina victory wouldn't feel equally as sweet for Tar Heel fans, though I suspect the prevailing emotion would be relief more than elation. But what those people often fail to admit is that debating is where all the fun comes from. It's fun to take sides, especially when the stakes are so relatively low – it is sports after all. That's why we argue Ali versus Frazier,  LeBron versus MJ (the DTH office is especially familiar with this one), and Tony Bennett versus the postseason. Easy answers make for boring conversation, and an all-Tobacco Road title game would effectively end the discussion.

If UNC beat Duke, or vice versa, in the national championship game, it would be exciting for a while (and for different groups of people). But once that sheen wore off, it would ruin the whole fun of the rivalry.

Which is why, deep down, I don't think anyone really wants it to happen.


@DTHSports |

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