Apparently truth now comes in various flavors, real and artificial, that are available for our choosing, what with news and fake news, facts and, according to presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway, “alternative facts.”
These variations of reality seem largely absent from sports and sports coverage – at least so far – unless you include instances when wealthy team owners manufacture the prospect of leaving town to leverage taxpayers into lucrative contributions to make them even richer. Usually sports battles regarding versions of truth are subjective debates over which team is better, or hazy claims and counterclaims in controversies like “Deflategate,” a tired accompaniment to New England’s participation in Super Bowl LI.
It’s difficult to put much spin on who won and lost unless you’re interested in claiming moral victories, a practice widely shunned as a sissified form of behavior. Yet in sports we recognize a certain entertainment value, anyway, in pregame psychological warfare, in spinning a narrative to gain an advantage. Usually we laugh at attempts to build up clearly overmatched opponents or, conversely, to lay claim to being a vastly disadvantaged underdog regardless of evidence to the contrary.
We’re amused by what the media dubs “a war of words” between rivals, especially if taunts or provocative misstatements play a prominent role in the debate. But we’re rarely taken in. Discerning fans can tell the difference between self-serving narrative and reasonable possibility.
Still, in this odd national moment of brazenly altered information being presented as fact, what if someone conjured sports stories that flirted with plausibility, sounding authentic even if they were not? Are sports fans less gullible about the subject of their passion than those interested in presidential politics?
Surely they wouldn’t fall for phony stories like those that follow.
SECRET DOCUMENTS REVEAL LONG-SUSPECTED CONSPIRACY
Workers renovating a building on Cornwallis Drive in Greensboro discovered a hidden cache of documents from the Atlantic Coast Conference’s early years outlining a coordinated plan to direct game officials to undermine teams from what is now North Carolina State University.
The documents were unearthed while removing a wall in a commercial building that formerly housed the ACC offices. A lockbox was found containing confidential minutes from long-past league meetings, marketing plans for a new women’s basketball tournament, and an agreement signed by six of the league’s seven original athletic directors to disadvantage N.C. State as a matter of policy.
N.C. State’s Roy Clogston, then the school’s AD, was not a party to the agreement, which set out a long-suspected program for depriving Wolfpack basketball and football teams of at least one victory annually by manipulating officials’ calls. The papers described a method for subtlely influencing game results by dangling plum assignments to referees as an inducement to comply.
There was no record of when, if ever, this directive was rescinded or the basis for instating it in the first place.
VIRGINIA BREAKS NEW GROUND WITH COACHING HIRE
Virginia graduate Dawn Staley was hired Sunday by her alma mater, becoming the first female to direct a men’s basketball program at a NCAA Division I school. Staley replaced Tony Bennett, who left UVa for a five-year, $30 million deal with the NBA’s New York Knicks. In taking the leap from college to the pros, Bennett followed in the footsteps of Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics (Butler) and Billy Donovan of Oklahoma City (Florida).
Staley had been head women’s coach at the University of South Carolina since the 2008-09 season. Her Gamecocks achieved a No. 1 national ranking on several occasions and reached the 2015 Final Four. Prior to her stint at Columbia, Staley took six of her eight teams at Temple to the NCAA tournament. The former point guard’s squads won better than 70 percent of their games at Temple and USC.
Noted as a tough competitor, Staley, 46, played under Debbie Ryan at Virginia from 1989 to 1992 and led her teams to three Final Fours. During her final two years at Charlottesville Staley was selected as the ACC female athlete of the year and the national women’s player of the year. Staley participated on three U.S. Olympic squads, starred in the WNBA, and in 2013 was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Speaking at a packed news conference covered live on ESPN, AD Craig Littlepage noted the irony of hiring Staley to break new ground as the men’s head coach at the last of the original eight ACC schools to admit women as undergraduates in the fall of 1970.
NEW ACC COMMISSIONER MOVES LEAGUE OFFICE TO CHARLOTTE
Three weeks after the retirement of longtime ACC commissioner John Swofford, and following an apparently divisive internal debate, league presidents announced the hiring of attorney and television personality Jay Bilas as the sixth man to head the conference.
Bilas immediately announced the 15-member ACC would move its office from Greensboro, where it had been located since its founding in 1953, to Charlotte, where he resides and ESPN, the league’s TV partner, has significant broadcast facilities.
The selection of Bilas, 53, continues a tradition of hiring commissioners from schools within the conference’s ranks. Bilas is a 1986 graduate of Duke University with a BA in political science and is a 1992 alumnus of the Duke School of Law. He is the second former Blue Devils athlete to fill the commissioner’s position, after Gene Corrigan (1987-1997). Many within the league had lobbied for its new leader to mirror Swofford in coming from a football background.
Bilas played from 1983-86 under coach Mike Krzyzewski, for whom he later worked as an assistant coach. Bilas has been a color commentator and studio analyst for ESPN since 1995, and is both an outspoken defender of the current Division I amateur model and a proponent of fairer treatment for student-athletes.
The selection of Bilas kept intact the Power Five conferences’ record of excluding women and minorities from their top administrative posts, earning them a collective rating of “D” from the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports directed by Richard Lapchick.