Politics and Basketball: Part Two


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Welcome to Part 2 of Monica’s Feature Politics and Basketball
For Part 1 click HERE

The Power of Incumbency and Win or Go Home Mentality

There’s a reason why UNC, UConn, Kentucky and Kansas are perennially ranked in college basketball’s top 25. The same is true of LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame in football. It’s a lot harder to fall from the top when you’ve been there for a long, long time. (Even though I must say while I was at UNC from ’00-’03, Matt Doherty tried his darnedest to permanently cut off UNC’s
basketball program at the knees.) In politics this type of advantage is called the power of incumbency,
and sometimes the advantages it brings are all but insurmountable.

3. Understanding the Power of Incumbency

After the jump

The last campaign I worked on was a municipal race where my candidate ran against a 36 year incumbent. That’s right the man was first elected on December 9, 1975. Our campaign called for term limits not simply because 36 years is too long for the same person to run a city but because of the absolute power that a long tenure entails. The 36 year incumbent had 20 times more money in his campaign account than his closest opponent as well as the city’s only newspaper in his back pocket.  There was a strong undercurrent of animosity from both political parties against him. However after serving for over three decades while simultaneously granting many people many favors, he had such a stranglehold on the City that people did not want their names showing up on challengers’ contribution lists. From the onset, our campaign had about as much chance of winning the election as Furman University has of beating UNC in a recruiting battle. However, there are a few methods and strategies that can be used to challenge the incumbents and these require clever, creative and crafty consultants.

One of the most effective ways for the Davids to challenge the Goliaths in any arena is to build up name recognition. Luckily in college basketball, there is a simple way to do this: score a series of upsets in the NCAA tournament. Fifteen years ago, no one knew where the hell Gonzaga was or that George Mason even had a basketball team. Butler Bulldogs? Is that even a Division One team? These schools were able to boost their national name recognition exponentially and triple their college basketball stock due to what we can call the “Cinderella Factor.” While success came as a result of their team’s talent and skill, a political consultant knows best how to exploit this “Cinderella factor” to the fullest extent through marketing, public relations and press coverage.

Another way to challenge incumbents is for mid-majors to employ talented but unknown coaches on the way up in their profession. Before the 1992 Presidential election, James Carville was just some crazy Cajun and George Stephanopoulos, a young man who sounded like a second cousin to a Sesame Street character. Athletic directors need to take more chances on passionate, young and up and
coming coaches who can create energy and excitement to compete with veteran hall of fame coaches.  Speaking of energy and excitement, another way to overcome incumbency is to win at home and create a zoo-like atmosphere on your own turf. While enjoying Duke’s loss to Ohio State, I noticed the carnival atmosphere of what has been dubbed, “The Nut House.” Buckeye fans were allowed to hold up enormous signs and caricatures of celebrities while opponents attempted free throws. (Last time I checked one could not hold up a sign in the Dean Dome that was larger than a letter size piece of paper). A few years ago, Wake Forest fans started sporting yellow and black tie-dyed shirts that createda sense of camaraderie among fans that was once hard to come by in Lawrence Joel Coliseum. My point is political consultants know how to create excitement around an underdog campaign and fill up the
bandwagon. The Davids may not always beat the Goliaths, but they can sometimes bruise them a littleand increase their own name recognition at the same time.

4. The Winner Takes All Philosophy

Whether it’s March for college basketball teams or November for politicians, both fully understand the “win or go home” mentality. In both professions, winning means everything, and a loss by one point is still a loss. Joe the Plumber does not remember who lost the 1978 NCAA Championship (though I’m happy to report it was Duke). And 30 years from now few people will remember that Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton in 1996 or Kerry to Bush in 2004. Political Operatives understand perhaps more than anyone the importance of winning and to the victor go the spoils.

Now, I’m not talking about rule breaking or ethics violations for which some Lee Atwater political types are notorious. Just like a Watergate-type scandal can ruin a political campaign, breaking the rules in college sports can result in serious consequences including probation, suspensions and financial repercussions. (Just ask Jerry Tarkanian of UNLV) I’m not insinuating that teams hire consultants to bend or break the rules. I do however believe in the good, old-fashioned practices of skullduggery and skillful opposition research.

You may recall that before the Kentucky game, PJ Hairston caught hell from Roy Williams for prematurely tweeting that he would not be playing in the game against the Wildcats. Now you would think UNC of all schools would monitor their players’ social media updates, which team officials claimed they did, but apparently not closely enough. However, social media monitoring needs to go beyond their
own team members’ status updates. In addition to my own team, I would monitor my opponents even more closely. You do this to look for motivation or “fodder.” Little tidbits of propaganda or kindling to light a fire are especially key for rivalry games. Apparently the week before Clemson played their in-state rival South Carolina in football, Clemson QB, Tajh Boyd tweeted that the Gamecock D-Line was “average at best.” Somehow the Gamecock defense got wind of this, and no doubt Boyd was tweeting a different tune after being sacked 5 times by SCAR’s “average at best” defense.

This is where political consultants’ opposition research skills come into play. Operatives understand what Sun Tzu meant when he said, “Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.” And monitoring social media should not be confined to sports related tweets. It is just as important to know if the opposing point guard just broke up with his girlfriend or if the entire team is
going out to a local club together and some members are still there at 2am. Granted all this has to beused in a prudent manner. I mean you can’t start talking trash to a guy about his grandmother dying, but sometimes it might be good to know that a player’s mind is elsewhere before a game. I know this may sound callous and heartless, but for better or worse college athletics are becoming just as cutthroat and malicious as politics. In an arena where the winner takes it all, a little behind the scenes skullduggery might be the extra advantage some teams need.

And Finally . . . . . Reason #5

5. I need a job . . .

I’m an ambitious, smart, funny, 30 year old professional looking for a job. Better catch me on the way up
cause in ten years you may not be able to afford me.