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Town and University look to avoid Franklin Street rush after Saturday's UNC-Duke game

Students Rush Franklin
UNC fans rush Franklin Street after UNC's basketball team triumphs over Duke despite COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.

After UNC students swarmed Franklin Street last month, UNC and Chapel Hill are working on plans to avoid history repeating itself with the UNC-Duke men’s basketball game Saturday night. 

Police preparations 

There will be as many as 30 UNC-PD officers available that night, with UNC opening its Emergency Operations Center at the time of the game, UNC Police Chief David Perry said at a Campus Safety Commission meeting Wednesday. 

Perry said 12 officers will be stationed at each the Dean E. Smith Center, Columbia Street and Cameron Avenue area.

“We are hopeful that upon a victory — because we do want a victory — that community members and students will adhere to our requests,” he said at the meeting. “If not, and there’s a street occurrence, (Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue) and I have assured our leaders that we’ll do our best to restore traffic and normalcy to that area as quickly as possible.”

According to UNC Media Relations, The University is working closely with the Town of Chapel Hill and the Orange County Health Department to encourage safe watching, and UNC police will provide support to Chapel Hill police on Saturday night.

At the time of publication, the Town of Chapel Hill has not provided additional details about law enforcement preparations for this Saturday’s game — including the protocol, staffing numbers or confirmation of plans for crowd containment.

In an email, Victoria Hudson, the Orange County director of environmental health, said she was unaware of any community spread impacts from the February rush — however, she said, this is not an excuse to lose vigilance.

“Community transmission and vaccination trends are moving in the right direction,” Hudson wrote. “The recent Executive Order eased some restrictions on businesses. We have to stay vigilant to eliminate any actions that could lead to negative impacts at this time.”

February rush

UNC Police’s officer count for Saturday is a major increase from that of the last Franklin Street rush, in which UNC Media Relations said two officers were deployed to Columbia Street at the request of Chapel Hill Police. 

Emails obtained by The Daily Tar Heel indicate that UNC Police did not expect students to rush last month. 

“...the number of students on campus is very low (@ 3200) and with no parties supposedly being held due to the Executive Order and the University, numbers that could possibly show up for a post game win would be very low,” Sgt. Keith Ellington, special event coordinator at UNC Police, wrote in an email to Perry a week before the game. 

Last month, crowds dispersed after about 35 minutes at the Columbia Street intersection. At one point, hundreds of students crowd surfed a mattress, leaving foam littered on the ground. 

Rachel Reynolds, a first-year psychology student, said she was scared to walk around her residence hall because she knew of people who had been reported for COVID-19 community standards following the rush. 

“I’m more hopeful that something like that won’t happen again,” Reynolds said. 

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Amy Johnson said in a statement that The Office of Student Conduct received more than 300 referrals after the incident. 

If the student is found to have violated the community standards, depending on the severity of the violation, consequences could include: 

  • A warning
  • Restrictions on access facilities
  • Loss of campus privileges
  • Removal from housing
  • Disenrollment


In an effort to avoid another incident similar to February's, the University has posted and sent messages encouraging students to watch the game safely. UNC is also offering some alternatives to rushing Franklin Street: 

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  • The UNC Athletic Department and Residence Hall Association will host a virtual watch party on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Students can RSVP to attend here
  • The Carolina Athletics Association and the Carolina Union Activities Board will host a virtual trivia night leading up to the game at 6 p.m. Students can RSVP to attend here

The Town of Chapel Hill is sending out similar messages to students and fans. 

Ran Northam, interim communications manager for the Town of Chapel Hill, said the Town will focus on educating businesses and patrons alike about state- and county-level COVID-19 standards as the weekend approaches.

“Our main focus is trying to communicate ahead of the event and educate the community on our goals and our expectations,” Northam said. “We’re trying to keep things virtual, while still supporting downtown, and doing so early to avoid the crowd that could be in place that evening, working with the downtown partnership and downtown businesses to make sure that they're aware of the adjusted regulations.”

The Town Of Chapel Hill has encouraged residents interested in celebrating the game to: 

  • Visit downtown businesses early, opting to eat meals before 6 p.m. to avoid crowds. 
  • Take celebratory Franklin and Columbia streets photos hours before tip-off.
  • Set up virtual watch parties with friends to keep a safe social distance.

University reporter Charlotte Geier contributed reporting. 

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