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Printed from the Charlotte Observer - www.CharlotteObserver.com
Posted: Sunday, Jun. 08, 2008

Gimme a w-a-s-t-e! That spells football!

Published in: Mark Washburn

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Every now and then, an idea swims by that is so awful, so whacko, so let's-take-a-nap-on-a-nest-of-fire-ants bad, you just have to appoint a blue-ribbon panel to study it.

Now their report is in: Big-time football for UNC Charlotte will be expensive.

Not just expensive like a tank of diesel or tickets to Hannah Montana.

No, real expensive. Pentagon expensive. Hot dog at a Bobcats game expensive.

To put a Division I-A team on the field by 2016 will cost in excess of a jillion dollars.

Included in the sticker shock is about $20 million for a stadium.

Something called “auxiliary facility needs” (lawnmowers, game-day bounce houses, etc.) is estimated at $20 million-plus.

Because UNCC is an institution of higher learning, packed with PhDs whose craniums stick out in the back, this report is being greeted with a big

Hmmmm.

In other words, it will require further study. It must be assessed. It must be mulled.

It must be

Hmmmmed.

Then this fall, we'll get down to business. After the trustees gander at the figures and everyone's had their say, Chancellor Phil Dubois will make his recommendation and UNCC will decide what to do.

Expect hand-wringing about whether football is a good move for the university, the biggest in the state system without the sport. Will it hurt the academic mission? Will it enhance enrollment?

Couldn't we think outside the box and go with a dog track instead?

While engaging, those discussions are about as important as the Puerto Rico primary. What's going to matter is money. Like who's going to pay in excess of a jillion dollars.

UNCC's Football Feasibility Committee is ahead of the game on that one. They say you'll need to soak the alumni first and the students second. And soak ‘em hard.

Since the students are defenseless, they can expect a $300 bump. This would instantly make UNCC No. 1 in the league – in athletic fees.

Personally, I think sports are good for the collegiate experience. Builds teamwork, brings attention, gives you something to do on weekends when you can't get a date.

But I'm real fuzzy on why UNCC needs a $20 million stadium for what will be a long-struggling program. Charlotte is one of those towns that used to build sporting arenas all the time, but that's going out of style.

UNCC is an ambitious school, and that's good. It wants recognition for world-class academics. It chafes at being an afterthought to the flagship over in Chapel Hill.

But you can't buy respect with football. In fact, I think we'll all agree football is what they do in Chapel Hill while waiting for basketball season.

Or Duke. Duke! They play football. Poor things. Bad football, however, hasn't hurt Duke's image.

Notice when the Kennedys want to go to college, they head to Harvard, but when they want someone to operate on their brain, they come to Duke?

UNCC missed the boat back in the 1990s when conferences were realigning. That was the moment to jump into football.

UNCC has greater days ahead, but they won't be on the gridiron. There's a goal to look for in University City and it's in the business of brainpower.

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007; mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

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