In the past, Virginia fans been criticized as some of the worst in the ACC. They don't cheer loudly enough, don't come to enough games and don't stay to the end if the Cavs are losing. And while it would be nice to have all of the Cavalier fans up on their feet until the final buzzer, the Virginia faithful are nowhere close to being the worst fans in the Conference.
That dubious honor instead should be bestowed upon North Carolina fans.
The Dean Dome supposedly is one of the most intimidating places to play in college basketball, largely because of the number of fans it holds and the frenzied volume those fans produce throughout the game. But as I learned Sunday, that support only appears when the Tar Heels are winning, and when they aren't - as is the case now - the fans turn very ugly.
Going into Sunday's game against Florida State, North Carolina Coach Bill Guthridge commented that he had received letters from Carolina fans calling for him to resign as coach after three consecutive losses. As the Tar Heels were losing to the Seminoles - their fourth straight defeat - many fans stood up and booed their team. Following the game, several fans yelled at the Heels as they made their way to the locker room.
I understand their frustration. Losing is never fun, especially when great things are expected from your team. And watching your team lose to a huge underdog makes it even worse. I do sympathize, and I have felt that type of frustration, but I never have thought about booing my team or finding them after the game and yelling at them. And come to think of it, in my four years at Virginia, I never have seen a crowd at U-Hall booing the Cavaliers as they leave the floor.
To be perfectly honest, I really don't like the Tar Heels. Ed Cota and Brendan Haywood are two of my least favorite players in college basketball. So I don't object to booing the Tar Heels because I have a great love of Carolina - trust me, I don't. I object because true fans shouldn't boo their team, especially when these fans are supposedly some of the best in the Conference, if not the nation.
And I'm not the only one that feels this way.
"If the fans are going to boo, let them boo," Haywood said. "That's fine. If they don't want to come, they don't have to come. We'll play for ourselves. We're playing for our pride out there."
Ironically, Haywood's comments only brought out even more of the ugliness that I saw on television Sunday.
On the Goheels.com message board yesterday, I noticed the following post: "Guess what Big Guy?!?!? You say that you don't care about the fans! Well the fans are starting to not care about you. I would not have gone to that game either after watching what has taken place in the last couple of games ... Get off your butt and play like we know that you can or quit complaining!!!"
Ouch. But there were even more scathing criticisms on the message board.
"Gut is without emotion. He has to go. We should come out to play absolutely furious! Hard fouls, trash talk ... whatever it takes. MEANNESS. I don't want to hear what a nice group of kids we have. What is going on with UNC athletics ... perhaps it's just acceptance of mediocrity. IT'S NOT OK THAT THEY ARE PLAYING HARD AND LOSING. GOT IT. Cancel scholarships, fire the coach, fire the athletic director. NOW."
I'm sure that not all fans at the game were booing and I know there still are people out there who support the Tar Heels, regardless of whether they win or lose. I have no problem at all with those fans. But in terms of all the rest who are booing, I have a very large problem with their method of "support."
I may be too much of an idealist, but the rampage by the Tar Heel fans seems to do more damage to the program than any number of losses they now have. The team is frustrated and disappointed, and further criticism is not going to make them perform any better. No team is perfect, and maybe North Carolina simply needs a year to rebuild or improve.
There are plenty of people out there who feel college basketball is a business, and that losing means the business is no longer successful and key players should be replaced. Aside from the fact that this isn't possible at this point in the season - who would play if you got rid of Haywood and the other frustrated players? - that attitude does not turn the Tar Heel supporters into fans. It makes them into stock traders who dump their shares as soon as the going gets rough. It's acceptable on the stock exchange, but it shouldn't be in basketball.
But since the recent actions indicate that many Tar Heel fans want to trade in their team, save the criticism and the negativity. It doesn't accomplish anything. Instead, try finding another collegiate team to support.