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These pictures are from (North) Carolina’s season opener at Davidson on November 14. The game was hosted at the Charlotte Bobcats Arena in uptown Charlotte, the Wildcats home away from home when big-name opponents come to town (this year Davidson’s games against UNC and Duke were their only games played there).

From the photos you can tell though that Davidson’s home court advantage was not only neutralized but reversed. The red on the near end is the student section. It was easily outweighed by the blue on the far side. The photo also does not show the upper deck very clearly. It was almost entirely light blue.

Davidson’s web site counted it as a “neutral site game”, but (North) Carolina’s web site showed it as an “away event.”  And the Tar Heels did wear their road blues, while the Wildcats had on their home whites.

The atmosphere definitely did not seem like a road match for UNC, as it had a slight noise advantage for the game.  The Davidson student section gave a more constant roar, but when (North) Carolina fans started their “Tar-Heel” chant the arena almost shook as fans shouted back and forth at each other.

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These photos were taken during (South) Carolina’s warmups, just after the players entrance, and at tip-off respectively.  All were taken from the student section, five rows from the court (counting the press table), at exactly mid-court.  I can smell the jealousy oozing out of Chapel Hill.

As evidenced in Monday’s post, (North) Carolina appears to be a basketball school, whereas (South) Carolina fans tend to be far more gung ho about football. So one might assume that UNC students have far more fun with their basketball program than USC students have with theirs. Well The Real Carolina decided to rate the quality of students’ experience with men’s basketball at both schools. Both were submitted to one to ten ratings in five areas: student seating, student ticket availability, arena quality, fan excitement/loudness, and quality of basketball. The results may surprise you.

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When interviewed, students at both (North) Carolina and (South) Carolina incessantly point out that there is a fundamental difference between the two schools’ athletics programs.

(South) Carolina is a football school.  (North) Carolina is a basketball school.

Evidence for these statements is everywhere.  Whether measured in percentage of games sold out, amount of athletic success or news coverage dominance, the validity of these opinions seems air-tight.

But what could be more helpful in understanding just how bipolar the schools’ sports affections are than a graphic?

Thanks to Google Trends, such a graphic is attainable.  Google Trends displays a measure of search term and news reference volumes on a line graph.  It also has the ability to compare terms.

As it turns out, a Google Trends search of “tar heels, gamecocks” sheds a lot of light of the football school/basketball school issue.

The results of such a search can be found here.  Hold the “Ctrl” key as you click the link to open it in a new tab.

As the chart shows, the vast majority “gamecocks” searches are done in the second half of the year.  Throughout football season the term “gamecocks” absolutely dominates “tar heels.” 

Beginning in what looks to be November though, “tar heels” starts to pick up steam.  Around the first of the year, “tar heels” overtakes “gamecocks.”  “Tar heels” then crescendos near the end of the first quarter when (North) Carolina bows out of the NCAA basketball tournament, at which point “gamecocks” again takes over.

The only exception to the football/basketball polarity occurred near the midpoint of the last two years.  This can be easily explained by (North) Carolina’s appearance in baseball’s College World Series finals.

When it was announced in September 2005 that (North) Carolina and (South) Carolina would be playing a home-and-home football series, the story made news at both schools. It marked the first time the schools would meet since (South) Carolina 1991.

Both schools released statements praising the renewal of the series. Then-(North) Carolina head coach John Bunting said he had pushed for the schools to play each other since he had taken over as head coach. (South) Carolina’s head coach, Steve Spurrier also made his desire to play the Tar Heels known shortly after taking over the team.

The most intriguing comment about the games may have come from (South) Carolina’s athletic director, Eric Hyman. He called the matchup a “natural rivalry.” Hyman said, “We had overtures to play the game at a neutral site outside the state lines, but felt it was in the best interest of our fans and our local businesses to play a home-and-home series with one of the games right here in Columbia.” The overtures, it turns out, had come from Spurrier who suggested the game be played in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, home of the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers.

This possibility of (South) Carolina and (North) Carolina playing as rivals on a neutral site is interesting, but it has a lot of problems. It is interesting because the schools do have a history playing each other; they have done so 54 times in football, most of which were when they played in the same conference (the Southern Conference 1922-1952, then the Atlantic Coast Conference 1953-1971). They also have a bit of mutual dislike, not the least of which coming from who rightfully owns the term “Carolina.” Spurrier’s 3-0 record against (North) Carolina as the head coach of the Heels’ most hated rival, Duke, also do not sit well with the powder blue faithful. (North) Carolina fans have not forgotten Spurrier running the score up to 41-0 in their last meeting. The schools are also nice foils of each other: city campus v. town campus, new buildings v. old buildings, conservative reputation v. liberal reputation. But there are some logistical problems to starting, or restarting, a rivalry.

The most prominent issue is the fact that (South) Carolina’s team is far superior to (North) Carolina’s at this point in time. Why should Gamecock fans want to be in a rivalry with a team that will struggle to get a bowl bid? This could be cured by an upset this Saturday or the two teams evening in strength by their second meeting in 2010, but neither is a solution at this point in time.

Maybe the biggest hurdle to clear though will be the discrepancy in (North) Carolina and (South) Carolina fans’ passion for their teams. (South) Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium’s average attendance during the Gamecocks 0-11 1999 season was 78,273. (North) Carolina’s Kenan Stadium has a capacity of 60,000 according to its athletics website, yet the only game sold out there more than a few days ahead of time this season was, you guessed it, (South) Carolina. Rivalries work best when both schools’ teams are good and both teams’ fans are passionate. A potential USC-UNC rivalry has neither.

For now, (South) Carolina fans will be happen to stick with Clemson as its sole rival. But if (North) Carolina can get its fans excited about football, improve the team by 2010 or pull off what would be a stunning upset this Saturday, a rivalry could be born. Hyman did say that the door was open to playing more games between the schools after the 2010 meeting, saying “I think it could end up being a healthy rivalry.” He also added that he thinks games between the two would between the two “will be received well in the real Carolina family.” One must ask which “real Carolina family” he was referring to though?

Week 1 tailgating

Tailgating before USC vs. Lousiana LafayetteTailgating before USC vs. Lousiana Lafayette (2)

(North) Carolina students were greeted with an informational email last Monday informing them that they would have to register for tickets for the Tar Heels game against (South) Carolina in the online lottery at TarHeelBlue.com. UNC students have till tomorrow to register.  This is only the third time students have had to enter an online lottery for football tickets. The system was first debuted for (North) Carolina’s game against Virginia Tech last season. It was again put into action when NC State came to Chapel Hill . Both of these were said by UNC’s student-run Carolina Athletic Association to be test runs of the online distribution system in preparation for basketball season.  The (South) Carolina distribution may be linked to the fact that it is the only UNC game to sell out more than a month in advance, as all tickets to the game were bought up by the end of August.  The Real Carolina will keep you up to speed when more information about the reason for the distribution is available.

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