UNC Basketball: Focus on Alumni Seating is Ruining Atmosphere


When I watch a game like the Michigan-Ohio State game this weekend, I become immensely jealous. To me, it was obvious from tip off that it was their game to lose. Why? One only needed to turn on the game to recognize that the Michigan student section controlled the game’s momentum from the beginning, circling the court as a collective dizzying yellow mob.  Thad Matta and the rest of the Buckeyes could barely hear themselves think in such an atmosphere and besides the stellar play of Trey Burke, it was apparent that it was one of the reasons Michigan won the game.  Schools like Michigan have something that UNC lacks: prime seating for students.  And this fact will come back to haunt us in the coming years.

UNC’s seating in the Dean Dome is at best, bias, and at worst, blatant favoring of alumni. While students are consigned to one area behind the hoop closest to the Tar Heel bench or in one section close to the band, alumni and season ticket holders circle the Dome and take up most the seating.  Depending on the game, there are 2,000 to 6,500 student tickets compared to the near 22,000 seats that fill the Smith Center.  The seats behind the benches, where the crowd’s impact is arguably at its best, are reserved, or at least the large majority are, for Ram’s Club Members (alumni that have donated $100,000 to the University over five years, but often derailed by students as “the elderly, wealthy former students that won’t stand”).  So depending on the game, around 10 to 30% of the seats are for students and the rest are for alumni. While this isn’t out of the realm for general percentages of student tickets/crowd capacity, the arrangement hurts the Tar Heels.

For starters, only in the first half can the students impact free throws, shots, and generally the opposing team’s offense. The second half has the opposition trying to score on a hoop backed and surrounded by alumni, fans that bought their tickets, and sometimes the opposition’s fans depending on the game (there was a ton of orange over there for the Clemson game). These fans don’t stand, they don’t wave their hands, and generally show a lack of spirit for a stadium and group of fans known for the taunt “You can’t win here.” Such a miserable showing hurts the Tar Heels in the long run because it diminishes the atmosphere and the home court advantage often associated with the Dean Dome.  While the Duke game is a different thing to address entirely, it’s something to be said that Austin Rivers‘ buzzer beater came on the half of the court surrounded by alumni and those who could afford to buy thousand dollar tickets.

While I can personally attest to the fact that UNC’s student section has been mediocre this year, it doesn’t excuse the fact that the Carolina Athletic Association and Ram’s Club are hurting Tar Heel basketball.  While we get loud for big games like NC State, Wisconsin, and of course, Duke (two of the three which I was front and center in the student section), games like Clemson, UVA, etc. show a resounding lack of spirit and and volume.  The famous TAR-HEEL chant isn’t answered by the opposite side, there’s miscommunication between the band (which starts several songs and chants) and the student section because they’re on opposite sides, and the student section’s impact is muffled by poor seating. The University’s administration needs to fix this or it will crush us in future years when we play teams like Pitt and Syracuse–two opponents known for their rowdy student sections and hostile atmospheres.

While I’m never one to suggest we borrow an idea from NCSU or Duke (seriously, it would be a blunder to echo the “Cameron Crazies” or the State…I don’t even think they have a name), UNC needs to take a long hard look at how it arranges its students. The Student Section is one of its best assets for winning tough rivalry games and now that tool is not being utilized.  If we shifted from all behind one hoop and a small area near the band to behind both hoops and court-side that runs behind both teams’ benches, it would cost the CAA money but the Smith Center would be the place to play. We would no longer be just “Top 10 Toughest Places to Play” but the ultimate enemy territory for visiting teams. So while UNC currently caters to the “wine and cheese crowd” (that’s from former FSU player Sam Cassell), if it shifted seating priority to the students, it would be the stuff of college basketball legend.