CHAPEL HILL -- The roof of the Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center collapsed last night causing major damage to the facility where the University of North Carolina plays its men's home basketball games. No casualties were reported.
A team of consulting structural engineers from NC State University, who examined the collapsed structure, believe that the event was the result of what they termed "jersey fatigue."
Dr. Rajiv Shakendra said "the final straw was the addition of the large replica of the jersey worn by Robert Bower 'Buzz' Peterson to the rafters." [Editor's note: Peterson's jersey was being hung to honor him as the North Carolina high school basketball player of the year in 1981, a notable achievement given his future college roommate, Michael Jordan, graduated from high school in North Carolina in the same year.]
There were, by one count, at least 135 jerseys and banners hanging from the rafters of the Dean Dome, Mike Knobler of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last spring. But even he had not seen this coming. "I recognized the quantity but had never fully realized the weight of these jerseys. Of course, everyone knew that it was burden to carry the name 'Jordan' or 'Rosenbluth' on your back but until this event no one had even thought to actually measure it," said Knobler.
"After we started looking more closely we realized that the weights were far more significant than we had ever thought," said UNC Athletic Director Dick Baddour. "Consider for moment Hubert Davis. His senior year he had to carry the entire Tar Heel team, not to mention the Davis family moniker, on his back. When you're hauling Uncle Walter's good name and reputation with you at all times, the 2653 pounds of the rest of the squad doesn't mean squat. And, if you're ready for this, Davis' jersey isn't retired -- or even honored."
How the UNC men's basketball team will cope, right at the beginning of the Atlantic Coast Conference season, without it's regular home court is unclear at this point, although several alternative venues have been eliminated already.
Negotiations with Duke University to use Cameroon Indoor Stadium fell apart after UNC officials discovered that the building has neither heat nor air conditioning and that male Ram's Club members would have to urinate in sink-like structures in its antiquated bathrooms.
Negotiations with NC State and the Carolina Hurricanes to use the RBC Center came to a halt after State offered to let UNC use it, but said, "due to logistical considerations" that the Tar Heels would have to play on the ice of the hockey rink. The UNC players were reported to have been excited about "more sliding and less running," but Roy Williams nixed the idea. Said Williams, "It's the galldurnest notion I ever heard. Only place I want ice at a basketball game in my dang Coca Cola."
Clemson University had offered use of Littlejohn Coliseum free of charge, but quickly retracted when informed by the ACC that a victory over the Tar Heels in Littlejohn would not constitute breaking the Tar Heels' 78-year-long home-winning streak against the Tigers. UNC's 52 consecutive home wins over Clemson ties the NCAA record for the longest home winning streak over one opponent. Clemson has never won a men's basketball game in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina also briefly considered refurbishing Woollen Gym, where the 1957 team played during its national championship season. But, with a seating capacity of 4500, according UNC economist Elbert Stoops, demand for seats would push the market price for one ticket to single game to $185,000. And, according to Prof. Stoops, "the scalpers' prices for the Duke game would be more, way more."
Currently, the men's basketball program is talking with the women's basketball program about using Carmichael Auditorium for practice and home games. The primary snag at this point is women's coach Sylvia Hatchell's concerns that having her team exposed to the "languid pace of the men's team's play" would be counterproductive for her squad as it might "slow 'em down."
Gary D. Gaddy used play basketball in Woollen Gym two or three times a week -- before he started thinking more about his knees and ankles than he did about guarding his man.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Thursday December 27, 2007.
Copyright 2007 Gary D. Gaddy