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UNC's Thursday Night Gamble

No one can accuse Chancellor Holden Thorp, AD Dick Baddour and UNC coach Butch Davis of being unwilling to take a huge risk.

When UNC takes on Florida State this Thursday, it will be the first time Kenan Stadium has hosted the ESPN Thursday Night Game since its inception. The primary reason why the Heels have never hosted a game lies with the perceived logistical nightmare of bringing in 60,000 plus fans into Chapel Hill on a weeknight. Kenan Stadium is located smack in the middle of campus and adjacent to UNC Hospitals. There is very little in the way of dedicated stadium parking and access to campus via the roads leading into and out of Chapel Hill are not the most conducive for moving that much traffic under lighter Saturday conditions much less on a weeknight. The fear always has been that UNC could not adequately free up the normal parking or handle the additional traffic. It appears the UNC administration(with some pressure from Butch Davis, I am sure) now feels that can pull it off and according to the Winston-Salem Journal it is a huge operation:

The first Thursday night game at Kenan Stadium in North Carolina history has required detailed planning by at least 11 school departments and public-service agencies, a concession by a television network, and major adjustments by the football team in preparing to play.

UNC will play Florida State at 8 p.m., which will be the only major-college game that day. School officials had resisted for years requests to play a Thursday home game because of parking issues during the school week, but Holden Thorp, the UNC chancellor, and Dick Baddour, the athletics director, led the effort to clear the way.

When local media starts doing process stories from a logistical standpoint before the game actually happens, it means heaven and earth are being moved to make it happen. While that is not literally the case, it is close if this document from UNC Department of Public Safety is any indication. The thirty plus page document outlines how the parking and traffic logistics will be handled. In order to make this work, UNC has decided to end the work day at 3 PM on Thursday and sending everyone home to make sure parking lots are cleared to accommodate the game. Now, one reason this date was chosen is because it fell during fall break which means no classes and fewer students around. Hopefully enough students remain to fill up the Tar Pit but removing that factor from the equation can only help the situation. Still, UNC will begin traffic operations at 2:30 PM, a full five and half hours before the game and parking lots will be cleared in succession after that. Needless to say this is a major undertaking.

And therein lies the gamble. Playing any nationally televised game is a gamble for the program itself because you risk embarrassment if you do not perform well. For UNC to host the game, automatically doubles the stakes given the unique nature of parking and traffic in and around Kenan Stadium. If this ends up being a logistical mess with massive traffic problems akin to what happened at Carter Finley Stadium for the U2 concert, UNC is going to wind up with major egg on the face. The opportunity to spotlight the football program and Kenan Stadium is tough to pass up but UNC is looking at a two edged sword here. If they fail to take care of business on the field, it will be a setback of sorts for the program. If it ends of being a major hassle to host the game, it might preclude such games in the future and at the same time result in 2-3 days of the media harping over how poorly it was handled by UNC. The media loves to write about what went wrong and air grievances form angry fans. That kind of negative attention might overshadow the football team if they win and certain something UNC would love to avoid.

At the same time, if UNC can pull off a win on the field and handle the parking/traffic issues with competence it will be a huge plus for the image of the university. Fans do not tend to pay much attention to a school's administration or even the athletic director unless something goes wrong. That is why you hear NCSU fans talk about their athletic department administration so much while UNC fans have not breathed Dick Baddour's name since Butch Davis was hired. Thursday night is a golden opportunity, not only for the football team under Butch Davis to play well on national television but also for the university as a whole to show that can pull something as logistically difficult as this off. The only process stories the powers at UNC want to see Friday morning are ones discussing how flawlessly the game was handle alongside glowing reports of a Tar Heel win.

I will be in attendance Thursday night thanks to the generosity of reader badbadleroybrown. I will offer up my take on how UNC did and I welcome any comments from others on how it went, especially as it compares to a regular game day.