Why everybody hates Duke: 5 theories

Duke University's basketball team drives fans of other schools to distraction every time the NCAA basketball tournament rolls around. Why, exactly?

Duke players Kyle Singer and Miles Plumlee celebrate a win.
(Image credit: Getty)

With March Madness in full swing, basketball fans and sports writers are indulging in an annual ritual -- the venting of hatred for the Duke University Blue Devils, a perennial college basketball powerhouse. "You hate Duke. Just admit it," says Pete Prisco at CBS Sportsline. Duke's frequent successful runs in the NCAA tournament earn it widespread TV coverage that only fuels the fire, which might explain why Duke hatred is as strong as ever even though the team hasn't reached the tournament's Final Four in six years. Duke plays Purdue in the "Sweet 16" round on Friday night, and is considered a good bet to advance. But why does this distinguished college's athletic success elicit so much antipathy?

1. Americans hate monopolies, and love underdogs: Think of Duke as Microsoft, says workplace psychologist Paul Damiano, as quoted in Newsweek. Duke's basketball prowess, like Microsoft's software near-monopoly, makes people mad. Americans love underdogs that fight for victory with few resources. Conversely, we hate dominant businesses and sports teams — the New York Yankees are a prime example — on the assumption they buy the best players, or get cushy treatment from the regulators ("aka the referees"). Case in point: Many writers have complained that Duke got easy opponents to help it go far in the tournament, because Blue Devil hatred translates into good TV ratings.

2. The "Cameron Crazies": No school has more infamous fans than Duke's Cameron Crazies, says John Gasaway in Basketball Prospectus. And many Duke haters believe the rowdy — some would say obnoxious — student fans who cram into Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium for home games and relentlessly taunt opposing players give their team an unfair advantage. Or, as a student at nearby arch-rival University of Carolina put it: "When I see those Dookie boneheads shoe-polishing their faces navy blue on television, squandering their parents' money with their fratty elitist bad sportsmanship antics and Saab stories, I want to puke all over Durham."

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3. Coach K: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski inherited a team that was down on its luck 30 years ago, and rebuilt it into a dominant force in the basketball-addicted Atlantic Coast Conference. Duke haters find Krzyzewski "annoying and self-important," and they love to mock his nasal twang. Coach K is a constant presence, says Monte Poole in the Oakland Tribune, and, depending on whether you're a Duke supporter or a fan of another school, he's "either your own personal god or he's wearing horns and holding a pitchfork."

4. "Elite" is a bad word: Duke is an elite school — expensive, with high academic standards, and a high graduation rate for its athletes. The pride Duke's coaches, players, and fans take in the school's academic reputation comes across to fans of rival programs as just another example of Duke's arrogance. Duke is always included in lists of college athletic programs "capable of properly balancing academics and athletics," says Ben Miller in The Quick and the Ed, and such talk makes its team stand out as a teacher's pet in a basketball world full of huge state schools, some of which have trouble with low graduation rates.

5. It's about money: Duke hatred is class warfare, says Al Lee in Payscale.com. Of all the teams in the NCAA tournament this year, Duke ranks No. 1 in alumni wages, with the average ex-Dukie making $104,000 a year. Thats nearly $30,000 more than alums make at the top seeds in the other regions in the tournament, and it's more than twice the figures for the tournament schools at the low end of the pay scale.

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