If you haven’t heard by now, Dave Clawson did something highly unusual during yesterday’s press conference leading up to this Saturday’s ACC championship game with Pitt in Charlotte.
In his eloquent, clever, and pleasant way, using some gently delivered sarcasm, he took on the ACC Network and ESPN. But clearly, he was hell-bent on making a point.
The backstory and unstated undercurrent go something like this. All season long ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit has been saying on College GameDay that Wake Forest isn’t that great a team and he picked the team to lose several times. Recently, he said the school has “six” football fans.
This may not seem to matter but it actually does. Clawson said the ACC sent Wake Forest just six tickets for Saturday’s game. Sounds absurd and implausible. So Clawson then pointed out that in his team’s recent Bowl Games they’re drawn a lot more than six fans. He went on to say the ACC then agreed to give Wake Forest 40 tickets, then 5,400 then 9,000. Clawson emphasized that Wake sold all those rapidly. He says there are likely to be more than 20,000 Wake Forest fans at the game.
“ESPN shouldn’t go on the air with information that isn’t accurate,” Clawson said. Then he smiled. But his expression belied his words. He didn’t think any of this was funny.
OK, so what’s really going on here really, beneath the surface, that wasn’t said explicitly during the presser?
We need to ask ourselves why the ACC office didn’t give Wake Forest anywhere close to the number of tickets it was supposed to or allowed Herbstreit to say the team had only six fans?
Maybe there’s more to this. Knowing how egotistical and power-hungry and money-grabbing the top people in the ACC ivory tower are, could it be they don’t like the fact that Dave Clawson’s football team continues to win year after year and is making it more difficult for the other big ACC blue blood universities to win the championship?
Is the winning consistency of Wake’s football program becoming a nuisance to other ACC coaches from the bigger schools? Are they wanting to push him out, get him out of the way, so they have a better chance to win?
That may be. People always want to topple winners from their perches.
Here’s something else to think about. The City of Charlotte isn’t thrilled that Wake Forest is in the ACC championship because the school has tens of thousands fewer fans than perennial participant Clemson. As a result, the city’s weekend revenues may not be as grandiose. Don’t believe me?
Check out this rather lame, uninformed, and mean-spirited opening to an article published in last week’s Charlotte Business Journal:
Charlotte started this college football season with a Top 5 matchup between Clemson and Georgia that accounted for most of the $26.4 million in visitor spending generated by Labor Day weekend games at Bank of America Stadium. Soon, local organizers may face the challenge of selling an afterthought ACC Football Championship featuring two schools that boast neither brand-name awareness nor ticket-hungry fan bases.
This newspaper had the audacity to note that Wake Forest has no brand-name awareness. Whoever wrote this doesn’t know much about major, highly respected universities in the United States. Academically, Wake Forest has plenty of brand-name awareness. And the football team has been to six straight bowl games. People in football circles know about the remarkable ascension of this school’s football program in recent years.
Not a ticket-hungry fan base? Well, this person didn’t go to the NC State game a few weeks ago that was nearly sold out with 4,600 students in attendance – the vast majority of the student body.
There will be tens of thousands of Wake Forest fans at the game this Saturday.
All this curious and biting stuff dissing Wake Forest is a little bit insulting if you now go there or are, like me, a fortunate graduate. That we can all deal with.
But what’s more important is to understand why Dave Clawson brought up this ticket fiasco just five days before the championship game knowing he would generate press coverage and raise eyebrows and ruffle feathers in the process not to mention damage relationships? Why instigate this distraction at such a critical juncture in your football program’s history?
I have a theory. He feels personally disrespected by the ACC and ESPN for allowing the ludicrous fallacy to be aired that the team he coaches only has six fans. And’s a ferociously competitive guy who’s tired of Herbstreit trashing his team and feels that the performances of his team on this field this year and over the past several have earned him the clout to stick it to Herbstreit, the ACC, and ESPN. His team is good. His program is one of the most overachieving and impressive in the country and he knows it. And he knows Herbstreit, the ACC and ESPN brass and ACC coaches know it too. In demand now for other high profile college coaching coaches, he knows what’s he worth and how great a job he and his staff and players have done. So he’s swinging back at his detractors and competitors – in his low-key and lighthearted way.
But the reason for his feistiness goes further. He wants his players to feel they’re being disrespected so they come out and play ferociously against Pitt with an anger and tenacity that ignites and catapults them to the ACC title.
This guy’s smart and understands human nature and basic psychology. Only a few days before the biggest game of their lives, give your players a reason to show the world they’re all wrong about how good they are. Make them want to prove everybody wrong and win on the grand stage with the lights burning bright.
All these ideas link to a memory I have listened to talk show host and comedian Steven Colbert giving the commencement address at the 2016 Wake Forest graduation. Attempting to be cute, Colbert mentioned that the Wake Forest football team wasn’t any good. With the students, the joke landed with a thud.
The line didn’t sit well with Clawson either. Soon after the speech, Clawson came out saying it wasn’t cool for a guest to come to Wake Forest at a high-profile graduation ceremony and trash the football team.
Clawson didn’t think it was right. Nor funny. And he said so. You don’t disrespect him and his football team and get away with it. It’s apparent that he stood up for this same principle – don’t respect me and my team — yesterday when he jabbed at ACC, ESPN, and Herbstreit about the ticket kerfuffle.
On Saturday night in Charlotte – a city that called the entire program an “afterthought” — it will be intriguing to see how his team responds.