Culture is one of those college football ‘buzz words’ that you hear anytime a new coaching staff takes over a program. Larry Fedora, going into his fifth year in Chapel Hill, has done a lot to change the culture of the Carolina football program. For as much as Fedora has done to build a culture of winning on and off the field at Carolina, there’s still something that has not changed. The culture, or time-honored tradition, of Carolina fans neglecting to fill the seats in Kenan Stadium every fall.
We, and everyone else out there, all know that Carolina is a basketball school. That’s all good and well, but the Carolina athletics program is far more than what happens in the Dean Dome. Carolina just finished in the Top 10 of the Capital One Cup in both men’s and women’s athletics –-among only three schools in the nation to do so. Clearly, there’s more to Carolina athletics than men’s basketball, even if a section of the fan base forgets that.
During the Butch Davis era, Davis slowly was able to build a culture of getting people out to Kenan. That all came to an screeching halt thanks to a gentlemen named John Blake, which in turn led to NCAA sanctions and the return of chronic "is it basketball seasons yet" syndrome.
Average Attendance Under Butch Davis (record included)
Average Attendance Under Larry Fedora (record included)
2012-50,286 8-4; shared ACC Coastal crown
2015-49,643 11-3; ACC Coastal Champs
Butch may have gotten butts in seats but he still perennially finished 8-4, which confuses me with how that small faction of fans thought bringing back Butch would "Make Carolina Great Again" à la Donald Trump. Either way, Davis’ tenure was eerily similar to how Jeff Fisher of the LA Rams’ career has gone in the NFL, seemingly finishing 8-8 every year but getting a pass because he went to a Super Bowl once. Fedora has had his ups and downs, mostly stemming off of the NCAA cloud left from the Davis regime, but still has earned one official, two unofficial (ineligible for postseason in 2012) Coastal crowns. He became the first coach since some guy named Mack Brown (who actually won a National Championship) to win 10+ games at Carolina. With all of that, the Fedora era still hasn’t touched the surface of Davis, as it pertains to attendance.
Even Carolina players are over the attendance at Kenan.
Maybe if we did a Men's basketball pick up game at halftime of our games maybe people will show up? Will you?— Bug Howard (@ThaBugMan) September 22, 2015
Now, I will admit that Carolina playing two FCS teams and Illinois and ESPN moving the South Carolina game to a Thursday night weren’t the greatest draws. Even still, when Carolina started rolling late in the season the stands weren’t completely filled. The November 7th mauling of Duke was announced as a sell out, but the announced attendance was 60,000—3,000 below Kenan Stadium’s listed capacity. A week later, Carolina boat raced Miami in front of another "sell out" crowd of 61,000. I will give credit to Carolina fans for packing the stands those two weeks, I just want to see it from September to November.
Carolina is constantly comparing itself to its in-state rivals and conference foes when it comes to recruiting. So, lets take a look at how Carolina stacked up last season in terms of attendance by percentage with said in-state rivals and conference foes. According to Phil Steele, in 2015, Tar Heel fans filled Kenan 78.8% to capacity. A rate good enough for 66th in the nation (Carolina has the 35th largest stadium in college football). By comparison, East Carolina, who went 5-7, managed to fill 86.5% of the seats in Dowdy-Ficklen. Wake Forest, in Year 2 of Dave Clawson, went 3-9, even still they filled BB&T Field 84.7% of the time. Have I made my point? Not yet. The one that should bother you the most, NC State packed Carter-Finley Stadium at a 98.9% clip. Carolina’s red-headed cousin who has long tried to be relevant in football and has constantly failed, put more butts in seats in a year where they went 7-6 and the Tar Heels went 11-3. Pathetic.
We all need to realize that to help Fedora and the Carolina coaching staff build a strong football culture, we need to provide a better game day atmosphere than our direct rivals. What recruit, when he stepped into Kenan Stadium last fall outside of the Duke and Miami weekends, would be impressed by what he saw? Whether you want to or not, you as a Carolina fan play a pivotal role in recruiting every time you step foot in Kenan Stadium, or any athletic facility on campus.
One last point I’ll make. The attendance at the ACC Championship Game can’t happen again versus Georgia or if the Tar Heels return to Charlotte this December. Yes, I understand that Clemson qualified for the title game weeks before Carolina did and gobbled up most of the tickets before Carolina fans could, but come on y’all. I live in West Hartford, Connecticut and went. Bradley International, my local airport, just recently started doing direct flights to Charlotte. I still found a way to shell out the cash for a flight and for the game to attend. Thankfully, I’m from Charlotte so I could at least stay at my parents house.
I’m headed to the Georgia game, once again from Connecticut, which is sold out. I know there’s this sentiment that possibly 80% of the stands will be Dawg red. I sincerely hope that’s not the case, given the fact that the majority of tickets were distributed to both universities ticket offices. I’m actually encouraged that with the sell out, that there may be a solid Carolina crowd to neutralize the playing field.
Athlon Sports, in their recent college football preview magazines, ranked Chapel Hill the ninth best college town in America. I’ve always said that there’s no place I’d rather be in the fall than in Kenan Stadium watching the Tar Heels play. The program finally seems to be past the NCAA cloud and inching closer to national relevance. I challenge all of Tar Heel Nation to pack Kenan and to help support the culture that Larry Fedora has created.