Hoops, presidential primaries blur and drive me insane

Published 10:44 am Wednesday, March 9, 2016

by John Railey

I have finally gone mad. I swear to you that the wild and often unpredictable nature of this year’s ACC men’s basketball season and the wild and often unpredictable nature of this year’s presidential primaries are one and the same. They have done this to me.

With the ACC tournament kicking off in our nation’s capital this week and our state’s primary coming next week, I unveil my insanity. It is a madness borne of channel surfing between presidential debates and primaries and basketball games. Presidential candidates and ballplayers blur and become one before my eyes.

For weeks, I’ve sought a cure to my insanity. I wanted to write my way out of this. I floated ideas to family and friends on how I might compare and contrast ACC teams and the candidates in a column. God bless my loved ones for saying, with polite smiles, that this can’t be done and don’t make a fool of yourself. They tried to get me help.

Don’t blame them for this column or my lunacy.

Blame my late father, who taught me to love politics and the hoops of our favorite colleges. Like me, he was educated at both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Virginia, although he surely learned a lot more at both than I ever did. I embraced his love of politics early on. Only in the last few years have I embraced his love of college hoops, just as addictive as his love of politics.

My living loved ones are right: You can’t make a direct comparison between basketball teams and presidential candidates, anymore than you can prove that the late Coach Dean Smith of Carolina was the reincarnation of President Lincoln. Even though he was.

But I am not really crazy. As just one example, I swear I would never, at least publicly, compare Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski to Donald Trump. No matter how much Coach K drives us Carolina fans crazy, I have to say he knows his job inside and out, is well-equipped to handle it and shows real courage, in sharp contrast to that gutless wonder of a presidential candidate from New York.

I might argue that the Syracuse coach and the Miami coach are gutsy older guys just as democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders is, but then the comparison/contrast trails off. Wait, doesn’t Sanders moonlight as a coach? Are we comparing coaches to candidates, or coaches and teams to candidates? Apples, oranges and rotten tomatoes begin to fly at me. I am getting all tripped up here. Sorry, Duke.

But seriously, this I do know, from a lifelong study of politics and my nascent study of college hoops: Underdogs can make thrilling runs in both. Both primaries and basketball turn on adrenaline, endurance, strategy and controlling the clock, setting the pace. Every big ACC game tests all those skills and more, just as every presidential primary race does.

The same will hold true in the pending NCAA Tournament, when our best ACC teams will compete with the best teams from across the nation. I guarantee you an ACC team will be in The Final Four. There, I really am crazy.

The NCAA Tournament will take us to geographical places to which we’ve henceforth given little thought, just as the debates and primaries do. In both, we’ll engage in regional differences. In both, we’ll yell and scream at the screen over what the hell coaches and players are thinking, and what the hell is wrong with the referees.

The biggest difference is that the college hoops fun and lunacy ends in early April. The presidential-race craziness, which began at least two years ago, extends until early November, a discontented season that far surpasses even that of NASCAR in longevity — and perhaps even in loudness.

But I am crazy for even comparing March Madness to the presidential primaries. Go Heels. Like Waylon sang, we’ve always been crazy, but it’s kept us from going insane.

JOHN RAILEY is a Courtland native, rabid Tar Heels fan and editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, where this column first appeared.