The Palmetto State is close to national title sweep
By Manie Robinson, Sports Columnist, The Greenville News
South Carolinians have never needed a reason to boast. Palmetto State pride is innate and intense.
It seeps from a Sandlapper’s soul, often without provocation. It incites passionate proclamations. It can compliment and condemn you with the same phrase — "Bless your heart.”
It will assert that South Carolina has better seafood than Maryland, better golf than California and better peaches than Georgia. And now a better collection of college sports teams than any other state, commonwealth or territory.
South Carolina schools reign as champions in two of the four major National Collegiate Athletic Association sports, and the remaining two are within reach.
In June, the Coastal Carolina University baseball team returned to Conway with the College World Series trophy. In January, Clemson University claimed the College Football Playoff national championship.
On Sunday, the University of South Carolina sealed the state’s first appearance in the Final Four of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. On Monday, the USC women’s team reached its second Final Four in the last three years.
The Carolina men’s and women’s teams will travel to Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas, respectively, to pursue new pinnacles for their programs, immeasurable positive exposure for their school and an inimitable achievement for their state.
Since the inception of the women’s tournament in 1982, no state has held baseball, football and both basketball championships simultaneously. The University of Connecticut swept the men’s and women’s basketball championships in 2014. No other school has matched that feat.
The state of Texas nearly clinched this grand slam in 2005, when the University of Texas won national titles in football and baseball and Baylor University won the women’s basketball championship. However, Texas Tech fell in the Elite Eight of the men’s tournament.
One would expect such dominance from Texas, considering it is home to five major Division I schools with prosperous programs. According to figures compiled by USA Today Sports, the Texas A&M athletic department generated $192.6 million of total revenue in 2015, merely $4.1 million less than the sum of the figures South Carolina and Clemson reported that year.
California would make sense. Florida is plausible. Even Louisiana, Georgia and Tennessee are feasible candidates.
Yet, this tiny state, with one third the square mileage of Michigan and half the population of New York City, is a weekend away from becoming the capital of champions. This ascent has been propelled by a convergence of diligent and determined athletes, consistent and proficient leadership, a little luck and a lot of zealous South Carolinians.
“Life’s about people. When you put special people in a room and you get them to coexist and live for one another, then and only then, will you have special things come your way. That’s what this state is about,” said USC men’s basketball coach Frank Martin, a Florida native who arrived in Columbia five years ago. “What’s happened may be a surprise to a lot. It’s not a surprise to me. I’ve learned the values and the passion of the people of South Carolina.”
Palmetto State pride is reflected in the support of these teams, but it is not rooted in it. It is embedded in the work ethic of teachers, first responders, farmers, brewers, mill workers, engineers and entrepreneurs. It is entrenched in the resolve of communities damaged by natural disasters and torn by inexplicable tragedy. It is ingrained in the compassion that rose against hostility.
It is engraved on the ragged annals of our regrettable history. It is instilled in the hope of a promising and progressive future.
“Our state has handled controversy around here a heck of a lot better than the rest of the country has,” Martin said. “It’s because of people. It’s beautiful people, hard-working people. They love what they’re about. They love their state. That’s the beautiful thing of living here.”
Even while South Carolina endured a 43-year NCAA Tournament drought, Gamecock fans could still wear their garnet proudly. Even when the best chance for an undefeated football season was at Winthrop or the College of Charleston, Clemson fans could still pack Death Valley.
This sequence of success certainly has amplified their cheers, fortified their devotion and even intensified their rivalries, but they do not need trophies to flaunt their colors. They support their teams because, win or lose, South Carolina teams consistently represent the diligence, dignity and defiance South Carolinians treasure.
That pride is not affected by the box score. It is preserved by principle, carried by camaraderie and accented by arrogance. When the teams and the peaches are this good, modesty is insincere.
And if you think otherwise, bless your heart.