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Monday, November 27, 2006
Can UNC Football be as Big as Basketball?

As we come to the end of football season, and to the beginning of basketball season, again the question is raised: Can football be as big as basketball at Carolina? This is the time to end this senseless speculation, this pointless exercise which goes on year after year -- seemingly never coming to a solid conclusion.

As the Coordinator of Statistical Consulting at the Howard W. Odum Institute for Research in Social Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for eight years (a job which I left because I got tired of carrying an 8½ x 11 accordion-fold business card), I am pre-eminently qualified to address this issue and end this debate once and for all.

The football team's current roster has 112 players while the basketball team roster has 17.

Football players are bigger. The current roster has eight players over 300 pounds. Perhaps with the exception of Geoff Crompton and Neil Fingleton, who probably shouldn't count, the basketball team never has had even one player with that kind of heft.

The football team's marching band has 275 students and is more than twice the size of the basketball team's pep band with 135 students.

The capacity of Kenan stadium is 62,000; the Smith Center 21,750. Kenan is 285% bigger [sic -- see ERRATA at bottom] than the Dean Dome.

Kenan Stadium is much more storied (having boxes which rise five levels from ground level) than the Smith Center which only has two. Kenan Stadium is also much older, having been the home of the Tar Heels since 1927. The Smith Center was built in the 1980's. What's more, Kenan Stadium is much newer -- with its renovation, addition and expansion project just being completed in 1998. The Smith Center was built in the 1980's.

And here are some really important numbers when you're talking about what really matters: the renovation, addition and expansion of Kenan Stadium cost $43 million cost, 43% more than the entire construction cost (at $30 million) of the Smith Center, including the Khoury Natatorium, whatever that is.

But not everything of significance, even I would have to admit, has a number attached to it. The Duke-Carolina football rivalry has a bell. All the basketball team ever comes back from Durham with is a smile.

In another symbolic area, the football stadium has a bell tower; the basketball arena has buzzer. I've never seen the buzzer -- but you tell me, which do you think is bigger?

But more importantly, our football is program is bigger in the sense of being more inclusive, accepting and caring for those different from ourselves. The most obvious example: the football stadium often has more fans of a different color in the stands than the Dean Dome will hold altogether. It is a rare day indeed when the Smith Center has more than a few hundred opposing fans in its pale blue seats.

But numbers outside the stadiums matter as well. It's a very big occasion in basketball when the students and other fans stream off of campus and on to Franklin Street: a national championship victory or perhaps a convincing home win over a previously number-one ranked team from west Durham. In football it happens every football Saturday. And as yet another measure of significance, the football fans drink even more.

A comparison of coaches again shows football ahead. The football team has nine coaches, basketball four. And John Bunting is substantially bigger than Roy Williams -- at least 30% bigger. (And if you add in Butch Davis, perhaps as much as 250% bigger.)

Which brings us to one of my final points: nothing will tell you how important a sport is to a school than hirings and firings. What tells the true importance of a sport is not how many coaches it pays to coach, but how many it is willing to pay not to coach. Since 1962, the basketball program has only paid one head coach not to coach, Matt Doherty. In the same time period, the football program has paid three head coaches -- and many more assistants -- not to coach. So, which program does this say is more important?

Put the numbers together and the cumulative evidence is undeniable -- and it is not: "Carolina football can be as big as basketball." The conclusion is unequivocal: "Carolina football is bigger than Carolina basketball."

Seriously, as Dean Smith, a local man with a degree in mathematics, once said in addressing this controversy, "Carolina isn't a basketball school. It's women's soccer school."

Gary D. Gaddy is a recovering professor of journalism (once employed at an actual football school which shall remain nameless but had a Badger as its mascot) and really was the Coordinator of Statistical Consulting at the Howard W. Odum Institute for Research in Social Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and now is, in word count, a big writer.

A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald, December 21, 2006.   Copyright 2006 Gary D. Gaddy

ERRATA:  Some of my most diligent and dedicated readers (I'm thinking here of Bill Cloud) seem to have nothing better to do than nitpick and find errors in my work. I am, of course, more than happy to accomodate them.  First of all, I would like to point out that all statistics have margins of error.  Mine just happen to have very wide ones.  As Professor Cloud kindly pointed out to me, at 62,000 seats Kenan Stadium is NOT 285% bigger than the Dean Dome at 21,750.  It is 185% bigger.  It is, as I obviously meant to say, 285% the size of the Smith Center.  For a highly trained and experienced statistician such as myself to make such an egregious error is completely understandable.  I'm human.  However, I would like to point out that after its planned expansion is completed, Kenan will hold 70,800, which is 226% bigger than the Dean Dome, so I wasn't that far off -- by my standards.

Authored by Gary G. Gaddy at 4:24 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, February 15, 2007 11:04 AM EST
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