After going a combined 27-4 at home a season ago, three UNC programs are tasked with recreating that home field advantage in stadiums outside of Chapel Hill.
Men’s and women’s soccer, as well as field hockey, will all play their "home" games off campus as the result of construction on new athletics facilities. The programs all made final four appearances in 2016 and begin 2017 in the top five of their respective polls.
The group tasked with creating home crowds is Carolina Fever, a student organization that assigns a points system to home UNC sporting events and rewards attendees with merchandise and tickets to men’s basketball games.
Fever co-chair, junior Rebecca Griffin, has helped oversee an effort to bring last year's home environment to new stadiums.
“We do realize the commitment and the effort it will have to take,” Griffin said.
Field hockey will play at Duke, while both soccer teams will play home games at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, as well as far as Greensboro for the men's team. Fever’s primary concern is convincing students that it is worth making trips that could amount to an hour and a half of round trip travel.
“It's definitely going to make it more difficult for students to make it to those events,” sophomore and Fever public relations director Anders Pokela said. “But we have a few measures in place to incentivize students to go to those games and matches.”
Those measures include offering more points for these home matches than they were worth a year ago.
“Essentially they count as two games,” Pokela said of the new points system.
Junior Parker Andrews, a member of the elusive top 150 point holders who are guaranteed tickets to every home men’s basketball game, clarified his motivations.
“Bigger point values are nice, but that isn't the main focus for me or probably most Carolina Fever members,” Andrews said. “We love supporting all UNC athletes, and not just the ones who play in the Smith Center. The UNC teams playing in (the off-campus venues) all made Final Fours last season..."
“I would hate not to witness their journeys.”
Another of Fever's initiatives is a free shuttle between campus and the games, which they will begin offering for the men’s soccer game versus Rutgers on Sunday in partnership with the athletic department.
The shuttle service is particularly important in leveling the playing field for students who compete to be in the top 150 for Fever. With first-years unable to purchase on-campus parking, there is a potential for disparity among the classes. Brown Walters, the director of spirit programs for UNC and adviser to Fever, is confident in students' ability to fill the bleachers.
“My guess is that the kids who want to get to these games are going to be able to get to them," Walters said, "either through opportunities provided by athletics and the marketing office or simply reaching out to fellow Fever members and carpooling. I don’t think it's going to be something where upperclassmen have a decided advantage."
The concern about unfairness in the points rankings warrants concern among the directors, but student members like Andrews are focusing on the original reason behind Fever: to create a positive home environment for UNC athletics.
“Any student who has just the slightest interest in coming out to a game ought to be taken care of...” Andrews said. “I'm sure the players will feel more at home with hundreds of students cheering behind them."
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