Popular New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica was in the Triangle on Tuesday to promote his latest book “True Legend” _ a novel about the life and experiences of a high school superstar basketball player.
Lupica took time during his visit to The News & Observer to do a question/answer session:
Question: Will North Carolina one day get a Major League Baseball franchise?
Lupica: “It should, that’s obvious. I would hope they would look at the success of the (Carolina Panthers) and see the possibilities…
“Imagine if you took the Oakland A’s and moved them to this state and you get a real owner to go with this passionate sports fan base here and all of a sudden the owner doesn’t have to work with a $55 million payroll. “There are very few places left in the country that are fertile for Major League baseball. Very few. But I can’t imagine anywhere having the edge on North Carolina. Everything here is already in place _ weather, great baseball tradition, a sports loving population. It makes perfect sense.”
Question: Is the future of baseball viable? Can it compete long term for fans against the NFL and other professional sports?
Lupica: “At some point, they’ve got to find a way to speed up the games.
“But here’s something to consider that (ESPN’s) Adam Schefter said a few days back. We were talking about pro football and the head injuries and Adam said, ‘There’s one thing that could kill the golden goose of NFL football, and that’s a lot of these serious head injuries because if you get more and more parents seeing those injuries and they come to the conclusion that they’re not going to have their kids playing football, then everything changes fast.’
“Adam’s right. All of a sudden these athletes _ these high-end athletes _ would get pushed by their parents in other directions. Maybe that’s soccer, maybe something else, but it could be baseball.
“Here’s something else about baseball. We can talk about how slow the game is and long the games last and how much damage steroids have done to the image and a dozen other things. But from the time they open those gates on April 1 till the time they close the gates the last of October, a zillion people still go to baseball games in this country. They sit through those long games and pay whatever it is they have to pay for tickets and for parking and the extras. So the pull of baseball is still very, very strong.
“But if they could just make the game three hours, I know that would make a big difference.
Question: Will Alex Rodriguez and other steroid users get voted into the Hall of Fame?
Lupica: “He won’t get my vote. None of them will get my vote … But here’s the thing, he’s probably not going to come up for a vote until 2022 or so. By then, who knows? Attitudes can change.
“A-Rod’s version of his steroid use is completely preposterous _ that he only used for those three years. That’s like saying you had a headache for three years and you only took two aspirin.
Question: Do you think Seattle’s Russell Wilson will be successful in the NFL?
Lupica: “Oh my gosh, do I ever hope so.
“My favorite player of all time is Doug Flutie of Boston College. I believe if he could have ever gotten with the right coach who looked at the things he could do and didn’t obsess with the things he couldn’t do then he could have had a career south of the border of Canada like the career he did have in Canada.
“Now (Wilson) isn’t as small as Flutie, but he’s small. But the great thing here is that his size hasn’t in any way kept Pete Carroll from seeing the possibilities. And the Seahawks spent a boat load of money on Matt Flynn, so it that tells you how much they like Wilson.
“I just love this story. It could be the best _ very best _ story in the NFL this season and for a lot of seasons to come. I’ll root so hard for this young man because it will be a great story if he makes it. People will love the way he plays.
“I know the Seahawks must have gone into this thing thinking ‘Please let Matt Flynn be worth what we paid him’ and along comes this little guy with great possibilities and just blew the doors off the whole thing. You just can’t ask for a better story than this.”
Question: Has UNC’s image been damaged on a national scale?
Lupica: “Oh yes, the image has been hurt. It’s just a matter of how much damage has been done and we may not know that for a while.
“You know, this reminds me of how Arthur Ashe once described John McEnroe’s tennis game: ‘A nick here and nick there and pretty soon you’re bleeding to death.’
“You take enough punches and pretty soon you’re knocked out and you even be knocked out standing. I’m not saying this will sink North Carolina. I’m not saying it’ll cease to be a great college. But at some point you have to say ‘enough, enough’ because it’s hurting your school brand, not just your athletic brand.
“I thought the football stuff was pretty damning but the academics stuff is a lot more serious.
“I told V (Jim Valvano) one time, and we were great friends. I loved the guy. But it applies to any school in his country _ you bring in enough marginal kids and they’ll get you fired eventually. It’ll catch up with you.
“At some point, schools just have to take a step back and ask the question ‘Does this young man belong in our college?’ And if that answer is obviously ‘no’ then you have to move on.
“It’s tough to do, though. I realize that. Look at Dez Bryant. But coaches and colleges and even the pros get blinded by the talent.
“No one ever thought they would see UNC in this sort of situation. But no one ever thought they’d see Penn State in such a mess. But bad things can and do happen when you take too many chances and look the other way too many times.”
Question: What kind of impact _ if any _ will Syracuse make on the ACC?
Lupica: “Well, they’re a great basketball school. I think they’ll enhance ACC basketball … But really, the ACC will help Syracuse a lot more than the other way around.
“Syracuse will get more visibility and probably have a chance to recruit better players in football eventually.
“But here’s what’s funny if you’re a Boston College alum, which I am. Look at all the bad things Syracuse said about BC when they went to the ACC. Now Syracuse is next to join up.
“And Connecticut. Jim Calhoun had a lot to say, too. But now, they’d kill to get in the ACC.”
Question: What do you think college sports will be like 10 years from now?
Lupica: “That’s one of the great, great questions in all of sports anywhere these days.
“It’s certainly the most compelling question out there, simply because these past five or so years have been so unpredictable and extraordinary in college football and to some extent college basketball. I mean something changes radically every few months or so.
“College sports is unlike any other sport with maybe the exception of thoroughbred horse racing. The horse gets no perks whether he’s a great horse or a slow horse.
“Eventually, college sports will have to change and have to find a way to pay the athletes for their time because college sports is bigger than it’s ever been. It’s bigger than anyone could have possibly ever guessed just 10 or 15 years ago. ESPN and television have just expanded the visibility of college football and basketball so much that it’s hard to comprehend. And there’s no reason to think it won’t keep growing – maybe growing a little slower but still growing in popularity and TV markets.
“One thing that has to happen _ and I don’t know how or who will do this _ but the NCAA simply has to find a way to get control over football. The BCS can’t run college football in the future. It’s led to a rogue situation. You’ve got this small group of people and schools in these powerful conferences that dictate everything up and down the line. It’s just crazy.”