Student section misses the mark

David Brewer standing in front of the Dean Dome.

Every UNC student dreams of painting themselves blue and cheering on the Tar Heels from the risers in the Smith Center as a game-winning shot is taken. But that dream isn't always a well-realized reality due to the structure and size of UNC's student section. 

Compared to the amount of seats in the Smith Center, the size of UNC's student section is small. Most of the courtside sections are owned by Rams Club members, and of the 21,750 seats, only 3,000 to 6,000 are dedicated to student tickets, depending on the game. The additional standing-room only risers can hold approximately 200 students.

"When the Dean Dome was built, the donors were essentially given lifetime seats behind the bench," said Gerry Lajoie, a senior assistant athletic director in charge of ticket operations. 

 Lajoie said there are no plans to move UNC’s student section.  

Sophomore Hugh Kelley was part of the student section for many games last season. He said he was "pleasantly surprised" by the passion and excitement he found there last season, which was better than seasons before. 

But despite the fun experience, he still doesn't think that the student section is where it needs to be. For Kelley, the issue begins with the lottery ticket distribution system.

“The lottery is great because it allows a decent percentage of the student population to get tickets,” he said. “The biggest downside is it allows students to not be as committed; they sign up for it, almost like a routine, without actually knowing if they’re going to make it to the game.” 

Kelley suggested a different ticket distribution process that would require students to be more committed, and would reward the most dedicated with better seats. 

Reegan von Wildenradt, a writer for Men’s Health magazine, ranked the top seven men's basketball student sections this March. She said commitment and organization is what makes most NCAA student sections stand out. 

“The aspect that makes student sections unique, to me, is how well-coordinated they are and how much enthusiasm they have,” she said. “For example, the Cameron Crazies have a huge campout for tickets, and this year they had to take two written exams, which showed their commitment.” 

In her ranking of the top seven NCAA student sections, von Wildenradt included Duke’s Cameron Crazies, the Michigan State Izzone and the Virginia 'Hoo Crew, which was named the 2014 Naismith Student Section of the Year. All the programs that made the list had one thing in common: a longstanding and unique tradition, name or chant fondly given by generations of students. 

“They had really creative things they came up with, even if they weren’t the oldest student sections,” she said. “Of course, Kansas has the 'Rock chalk, Jayhawk' cheer, which is super famous.” 

Some students would argue that the amount of student seating isn’t the most pressing issue, and they're more concerned with improving quality. Kelley said that there could even be fewer student seats, as long as they were in a better location. 

“Schools like Duke, Michigan State and Maryland all have student sections that are together, which allows more passion and excitement to surge through the arena,” he said. 

David Brewer, a sophomore journalism major, said that the vibe during games — which is hindered by the location of student seats — needs to improve. 

“Generally games are pretty exciting, if you’re in the risers especially, because you’re standing the whole game and there’s a lot to be excited about,” he said. “But if you’re in the back of the student section, you’re pretty far away from the court, so it’s harder to get hype.” 

Brewer said that having the student section closer to the court would improve the atmosphere during games and have a more positive effect on the players. He also thinks this would enhance UNC’s image on TV. 

“Right now, no one looks hype at all,” Brewer said. “If the lower section was filled with students, it would make Carolina look much better as far as fans go.”

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