The N&O's Robbi Pickeral examines the efforts Butch Davis is undertaking to change how football is viewed at UNC. Much of it reflects what I have been saying about the program improving even if the wins do not come this season.
But the hiring of Davis, former coach of the Miami Hurricanes and Cleveland Browns, has led to renewed expectations.
The game is a sellout. Thirty-three thousand season tickets were sold for this year, up about 10 percent from 2006. And players are hearing as much hype on the way to class as they are in the locker room.
"Last year, before the first game, it was like, "We'll see, we'll see, whatever,'" senior defensive end Hilee Taylor said. "Now it's like, 'I can't wait.' "
Even if they don't see immediate victories, UNC is trying to give fans incentive to be in the stadium, cheering the rebuilding process. That's part of "changing the culture," too.
In order to lure people to campus early, UNC has opened up almost 1,000 additional parking spaces, and the town has created the Fifth Quarter bus service, which gives one-fee round-trip bus service to Franklin Street, Tar Heel Town and Kenan Stadium. The Old Well Walk -- a pre-game ritual during which players and coaches walk from the Old Well to the stadium, greeting fans along the way -- will continue.
To get spectators into their seats early, Kenan Stadium boasts new ribbon boards and concert-style speakers. Fireworks have been added to the national anthem, and the game ball will be parachuted in for the opener.
And to keep fans coming back, the school has moved the band and most student groups into the end zone seats. Dubbed the "Tar Pit," they're hoping to create a 12th-man quality to the stadium.
"When we have Kenan Stadium packed and rocking, I'll take that atmosphere over any other stadium in the country,'' said Rick Steinbacher, associate athletics director for marketing and promotions. "Our challenge is not to experience that once a year or every other year ... we want to do it six or seven games a year.
"Now, probably 75 percent of that ... comes from winning, but we also want to build a tradition, create an atmosphere."
I applaud the efforts of the athletic department to do something to improve the game day logistics for fans but I still think the traffic patterns coming into Kenan and the lack of a great tailgating setup also hinders this to some extent. The traffic is also a greater concern when it comes to getting the stadium filled by kickoff, especially on days when games start at noon. I think it is a great sign season ticket sales are up 10% and they have announced a sell out for this Saturday even though I will wait and see if it actually looks like a sellout or not since announced numbers are at times not reflected in the actual crowd.
I do agree with Steinbacher's statement that winning will help this effort but at the same time how does a program get to a point where the crowds show up and create a great atmosphere even if the winning is not happening. NC State's has endured a similar downturn alongside UNC during the past two seasons but in my estimation that has done nothing to quell the atmosphere at Carter Finley. In fact the NC State administration does a better job at quelling the fans at CFS than any failure on the field could do, but I digress. The ultimate point is somehow UNC fans must get to a point where they assign almost as much importance to football as they do basketball. I will never surpass basketball unless it somehow attains the same consistent winning level as basketball which almost has to include winning a national title. That is a tall order to say the least and it is not like basketball is going to turn into Clemson any time soon. That being said there is no reason why Kenan Stadium shouldn't be rocking on game day and UNC cannot put a powerhouse team on the field.