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?