Many UNC students are struggling to get excited about spring athletics, as it seems unlikely that they'll be able to attend sporting events in person this semester.
UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in a Jan. 19 update that North Carolina "will not be able to welcome fans back to our athletics venues at this time.” He had previously announced on Nov. 5 that UNC athletics was “awaiting an update about capacity allowances at indoor venues.” If students are allowed into indoor sporting events at all, it will be at a reduced capacity.
Some universities have begun allowing student spectators to attend games in accordance with their states’ COVID-19 restrictions. Utah State University, whose home state has some of the least rigorous restrictions in the nation, allowed over 1,600 fans at the men's basketball home opener against Brigham Young University.
“I’m really disappointed that I won’t be able to go to games this spring because this is my first year getting to go as a student,” Blake Fuquay, a UNC first-year student from Greensboro, North Carolina, said. “Basketball games are a big deal here, and not getting to experience them in person is really frustrating. Obviously, I’ll still cheer the Tar Heels on from my TV.”
For many students, though, the changes in attendance policy are the least of their worries.
“I’m excited for basketball in March,” Edmund Donkor, a junior from Ohio, said. “I use the word ‘excited’ loosely, though, because I’m more concerned about navigating my classes and responsibilities in this pandemic and there’s almost a zero-percent chance I’ll be attending in person.”
For others, the distraction that any sort of spring athletics will provide from classes and responsibilities is welcome. Max Sherrill, a junior from Charlotte, said athletics, even if only televised, could help take his mind off the stresses of school.
“There's definitely something big missing, but I'm glad to at least be able to continue watching this semester," Sherrill said. "Athletics have been a fun distraction for me from what can become a monotonous remote learning routine."
While being a UNC fan this semester won't look the same for students, there are some upsides. Several teams that usually only play in the fall have extended their schedules to the spring. Teams like volleyball and field hockey will hope to continue their fall success as they complete their seasons over the next few months, with the latter of the two aiming for its third consecutive national championship.
Erin Owens, a junior from Charlotte who is co-president of Carolina Fever, UNC’s official student fan organization, emphasized that, despite all the changes, Tar Heel fans can still look forward to an exciting spring season.
“Our athletes still have a chance to compete and beat our rivals, which is always great,” Owens said. “We also get an extra mini-season of soccer, volleyball and field hockey tournaments in addition to our usual spring sports, so you’ve got to be excited for that.”
Both the games of the traditional spring sports and the temporary spring sports are far from guaranteed, though. Teams across the country have seen many competitions canceled because of COVID-19 outbreaks and exposures. UNC’s men's basketball team is no exception, with its Jan. 9 game vs. Clemson being postponed due to a positive case within the Tigers' program.
Eventually, things will slowly return to normal, and UNC students and fans will be able to once again cheer on their teams in person. But for now, first-year Alex Colven of Huntersville, North Carolina, said that watching them from afar will suffice.
“I’ve been a Tar Heel fan for as long as I can remember, so I am just grateful to at least be able to watch them on TV,” Colven said.