North Carolina seniors Austin Gentry and Ethan Kavanaugh dressed in their blue tuxedos – or at least, a body-painted version on their chests -- and had little more than T-shirts to cover them as snow and ice continued to fall Wednesday night.
Gentry and Kavanaugh were among hundreds of students stationed at the Koury Natatorium, which is beside the Dean E. Smith Center, since noon on Wednesday. Officials allowed them inside so they wouldn’t be in the cold for eight hours as they awaited the doors to open for the scheduled 9 p.m. basketball game against Duke.
Of course, the game did not happen because of the snowstorm, and it has been rescheduled for Feb. 20.
They left disappointed, but received the lukewarm consolation of individually boxed pepperoni pizza slices from Papa John’s. The delivery truck arrived to supply the arena’s concession stands, but with the game postponed, they were handed out to people around the Smith Center to avoid wasting all that cheese and marinara sauce.
It was the first time since 2000 that Carolina had to postpone a basketball game. That was against Maryland, and when the game was played two days later, roads still weren’t conducive to many fans making the game. Only students and die-hard fans filled the Smith Center and Carolina officials made seating general admission so the lower tier was rowdier than ever. It helped the unranked Tar Heels upset the Terrapins.
It also fueled conspiracy theorists after Wednesday’s postponement of the Duke game. The speculation spread faster than the students waiting at the Smith Center could disperse back to their dorms.
The pervasive thought was that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t want to play because he knew that most ticket-holders wouldn’t make the game and students would again fill in the lower level of the arena. That would make for a huge home-court advantage for the Tar Heels, and thus a reason to postpone the game.
That, of course, is not why the game was postponed.
But it brings up a good argument for changing the seating arrangements in the Smith Center.
While Carolina is contemplating renovations as the arena nears its 30th year of existence, it should look into making the students a permanent fixture in the lower tier, beyond just the risers behind the home basket.
There are roughly 14 mobile rows of seats that pull out from the base of the stands. Most, if not all, of that complete tier should be reserved for students – including the pep band – on all sides of the court.
The Heels don’t enjoy the home-court advantage it had while playing in Carmichael Auditorium, where they only lost 20 games from its December 1965 opening until moving to the Smith Center in January 1986.
Carolina already has lost three home games (Belmont, Texas, Miami) this season and has only gone unbeaten at home four times in 28 years. The Tar Heels have lost 62 games in 29 seasons playing in the Smith Center.
It’s time North Carolina made the Smith Center a tough trip for opponents without poor weather being a factor.