Duke Beat: Winning is the Goal, but at What Cost?

As a Duke Football follower, I really want to see the program succeed and start winning games on a regular basis.

For too long the Blue Devils have been the laughing stock of the ACC and an afterthought in the larger world of major college football. They do not and really cannot compete with the big boys on the gridiron at this point.

They are getting better and have a coach that has shown he is dedicated to making the program a viable winner once again.

There are few college football fans alive today that remember when Duke Football was one of the best programs around. Once upon a time the Blue Devils played in the Rose Bowl and did so twice, in 1938 and 1941, famously hosting the 1941 Rose Bowl following the bombing of Pearl Harbor that started the United States’ involvement in World War II.

The Blue Devils beat Alabama in the 1944 Sugar Bowl and 10 years after that beat Nebraska in the 1954 Orange Bowl.  Beating either of those national powers today would seem unfathomable, but back then, Duke was a national power.

The 1938 team that played in the Rose Bowl was unbeaten, untied and unscored upon in the regular season. They lost the Rose Bowl game to USC, but that feat is something that is not likely to be equaled. Few people alive today remember that, and those who don’t probably don’t care because that is history, and in today’s mentality past accomplishments, while nice, are in the past and don’t matter that much.

Today’s fans want to win and win now.

Look no further than the top teams in the country that spend millions of dollars each year on just coaches. They have football stadiums that have more seats than their school’s library has books, and sadly some of today’s best football players have scarcely picked up a book.

It was probably around the 1960s when the Duke University leaders decided to de-emphasize football and focus more on academics. As a result that level of early football success was forgotten, as the program began its downward spiral into what it has become today: a shell of its former self.

Programs that Duke used to compete with back in its heyday are still thriving. Alabama is a perennial power; Nebraska still wins more than it loses. And despite the fact that there are so many more bowls now than when Duke was winning and a conference title was almost a requirement to get to one,  the Blue Devils have only been to two bowl games since 1960 and haven’t won one since that 1960 Cotton Bowl against Arkansas.

I have never seen Duke win a bowl game in my lifetime.

Essentially Duke has become a basketball school with the success of that program, and the football program has been left to time to remember or forget.

Yet hope is kindling as I write this. The Duke fans of old and new are starting to read about a rebirth of the football program under David Cutcliffe.  And while no one is expecting a national title anytime soon, there are those who want to see Duke become much more than what it has been.

I am one of those people, but if you look at the landscape of college football the price of success is high, and I’m not so sure I want to see Duke pay that price, if that is what it takes.

Universities have made monumental sacrifices for their school’s football programs and some of those sacrifices I do not want to see Duke make for the sake of winning football games.

Scandals at some of the biggest programs over the last few years have brought only temporary fixes, but the corruption and drop in ethical standards of the nations’ universities in the name of football continues.

Ohio State’s troubles from just a year ago are all but forgotten, thanks to the hiring of Urban Meyer, a coach who, Tim Tebow aside, routinely had players in trouble with the law while at Florida.

USC’s Lane Kiffin bolted from his previous job at Tennessee after running his mouth for a year, then — seeing his dream job open — he dropped the Volunteer program like a dirty pair of pants. Not that that is illegal or unethical, but it is poor taste to say the least.

USC’s problems under former coach Pete Carroll seem all but forgotten now that the Trojans are a preseason favorite to compete for the national title again.

The NCAA seems to have no bite for these bigger programs and no solution to cleaning up the college game, due large in part to the amount of money involved. College Football isn’t about college and school pride anymore; it is all about money.

It took a tragedy like the one at Penn State for the NCAA to act, and their punishments are controversial at best.  And who’s to say that in eight to 10 years that the transgressions at Penn State, as bad as they were and as harsh as their accompanying punishments were, won’t be forgotten?

Closer to home in the ACC North Carolina is in the midst of a major academic scandal involving fake classes and manufactured grades. The NCAA has yet to take action, and while the university is taking steps to rectify the situation, look at what their lust for football success got them.

For Duke to take a step back onto the national stage, they have to start winning football games again, but if it means that they have to sacrifice their reputation and the sanctity of what they consider a student-athlete, then I’d rather not see it happen.

Prior to last season, Duke hung signs around the horseshoe at Wallace Wade Stadium commemorating the program’s accomplishments. Bowl games and ACC championships were some of those signs, but the one that stood out, the one that few other programs would probably bother to hang, or could hang in their stadiums, was the graduation rate sign.

Duke has always boasted one of the highest graduation rates in the ACC and the country, though that gets little notice these days. That sign is gone, as the program plans to make continued alterations and improvements to Wallace Wade Stadium. However, it is my hope that that doesn’t mean the program will ever get to a point where the graduation of its players isn’t still one of the highest goals that it has year in and year out.

I believe David Cutcliffe won’t allow that to happen on his watch, and the university still values academic reputation above all else, but so did their rivals at North Carolina, and look where they are right now; all for the sake of winning more football games.

— Mike Kline

Mike Kline is the operator of DukeSportsBlog.com, a site dedicated to coverage and analysis of Duke Football and Basketball from a fan’s perspective. He is also a regular contributor for DukeReport.com. Mike does a monthly podcast with Jim Oliver of Duke Report focusing on Duke Basketball and occasionally football. Mike is a long time Duke football and basketball fan. A former journalist, Mike is now a mild mannered middle school teacher by day and blogger by night. Follow Mike on Twitter at @DukeBlogMKline

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