UNC sports, and college athletics in general, has already lost that innocence. Observers might be reminded of that loss with every glimpse of the Nike swoosh on Tar Heel uniforms. They become more aware of the role of money in college sports whenever they read about massive contracts for broadcasting rights and post-season paydays.
Take a look at the salaries that today's top coaches are being paid. Many football coaches are getting millions. Mike Krzyzewski makes an estimated $1.6 million per year coaching the Blue Devils. Tubby Smith of Kentucky could net an average of $2.5 million if he makes all the right moves on the sideline.
UNC's very own Roy Williams has a consulting contract with Nike in addition to his combination of base salary and deferred income. But his financial dealings off the court don't detract from his status as a class act and a fine motivator of young men.
Similarly, placing signs in the Smith Center and Kenan Stadium won't take away from their importance. The former will always be the house of the 1993 NCAA men's basketball champions and many other wonderful hoops squads, and the latter will always be the hallowed ground where the underdog Tar Heels took out the heavily favored Miami Hurricanes this year.
Critics might ask: If money is already such a big factor, why are UNC officials thinking about making it even bigger? The answer is that corporate signage can bring in revenue that officials can use to support the University's sports and athletes.
As Director of Athletics Dick Baddour stated in a September release, allowing for tasteful corporate signs would be "far preferable than the possibility of eliminating sports and cutting student-athlete opportunities." He's absolutely right.
And there is one aspect of college athletics that can't be affected by corporate sponsorship and company money - and that's the emotion, the heart, shared by players, coaches and fans. "Heart" refers to the pride that players should feel when they think and act like a team. It refers to the emotions of diehard fans when they celebrate victory and lament defeat. Heart can't be bought, sold or sponsored.
If officials decide to allow for signage and handle the situation well enough, the University's beloved floors and fields won't become eyesores - and additional, much-needed funds will go toward the athletic scholarship budget.
Corporate signage critics should stop treating the structures themselves like sacred cows while ignoring the massive amount of commercialization that exists during halftimes and media broadcasts of games.
Instead, they should realize that the tasteful placement of ads in UNC's sports venues can lead to a revitalized commitment to the athletes themselves.