Not to rain on Duke’s post Kentucky win parade, but the Lance Thomas issue isn’t going away.
It seems that for all the smoke, there isn’t much fire. Although the issue is one that probably won’t endanger Duke in any physical way (i.e. no vacating the 2010 title), it will follow the program like a lingering shadow for the remainder of the season.
The main thing the Lance Thomas incident does to Duke is remove some of the shine off one of the NCAA’s more cherished programs. While that doesn’t seem like much, it does open the door to a less than cordial treatment of the coaches and players.
In post-game press conferences, any new developments in the situation, or even anyone just looking to get under Mike Krzyzewski’s skin, has an opening to ask the coach non-basketball questions.
Such questions won’t distract the coaching staff to the extent that it will cut into practice time or impact their thinking outside of the press room. But having to answer those questions could prove frustrating to a coach typically treated with the utmost reverence and respect.
Moreover, Coach K isn’t afraid to get testy with the media. It’s possible that such a dismissive or combative attitude regarding questions about Lance Thomas could come off as abrasive and unsavory to impartial observers.
Similarly, the TV announcers often accused of being in the tank for the Blue Devils will feel compelled to bring up the accusations in the interest of full disclosure or journalist integrity, or just to try and grab some ratings by discussing a divisive topic.
The effect of this kind of discussion won’t unravel Duke, but it will imbed into the minds of viewers that Duke maybe isn’t as clean-cut as basketball purists like to believe. It should certainly stoke the fires of people who are already inclined to dislike Duke.
But any minor inconvenience the questions or diminished reputation might have on the coaches or the school, both of whom actually make money off Duke’s basketball ventures, pales in comparison to the hassle that befalls Duke’s current players.
There have been no suggestions, or even rumors (at least that I’m aware of) regarding impropriety involving any of Duke’s current players. But an enterprising reporter or maliciously interested amateur investigator might feel inclined to look into the lives of Duke players for any evidence of ill gotten gains.
Duke’s players could very well find their personal lives under a microscope. What Thomas’ situation suggests is that money is available to members of the Duke basketball team in large sums. Inquiring minds might figure that if Thomas could get money, why wouldn’t someone like Mason Plumlee’s financial situation be equally enlarged?
And given that the research triangle is so chock full of students with cameras on their fancy phones, it wouldn’t take much to snap a picture of a Duke player splashing cash or driving a nice car or donning some new jewelry.
Even if such things are as innocent and innocuous as can be, thanks to the Lance Thomas situation, it doesn’t take much for people that aren’t fans of Duke to draw an assumption based on circumstantial evidence that such action might be indicative of something sinister.
These players ought to be assumed innocent until proven guilty, but the corruption and greed that runs rampant through sports, none of which is the fault of these players, is such that athletes are rarely given the benefit of the doubt.
When you add to that the fact that modern society and modern technology have increasing put our private lives in the public sphere, Duke players may feel like they are under surveillance by people just waiting for them to slip up. It’s an added stress for players already competing for a program in the national spotlight.
I’m sure everyone reading this that has been to college did something during that time that is thankfully not captured on camera. For Duke basketball players, their easily recognized faces provide a target for anyone seeking to further raise suspicion regarding the program’s treatment of players.
Again, it isn’t fair, in fact only Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly actually played with Lance Thomas, but just wearing the Duke Blue puts a target on your back not just on the basketball court, but now out in public too.
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