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DeCock: History suggests NC State, Canes scheduling dispute will pass

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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  • Unusual relationship

    The relationship between N.C. State and the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena is an unusual one because while the university is a tenant of the Hurricanes, who manage the arena, the school has a certain number of priority dates guaranteed. While the other ACC teams control their arenas, several Big East teams share arenas with professional teams, with differing arrangements for scheduling.

    Seton Hall plays in Newark’s Prudential Center along with the New Jersey Devils of the NHL. The Pirates are allowed to claim some dates before the NHL schedule is announced, then finalize their schedule once the hockey schedule is complete.

    Others have less flexibility. Marquette is the No. 2 tenant in its arena behind the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, for example, and only sets its schedule once the Bucks have set their schedule.

    DePaul shares its suburban Chicago arena with a minor-league hockey team, which often forces the Blue Demons to play on Saturday afternoons before Saturday night hockey games. (N.C. State and the Hurricanes have used a similar arrangement in the past.) Other arena events would also force the Blue Demons to play early season games in a small on-campus arena.

    The university recently announced plans to build a new arena in downtown Chicago. It chose that option instead of sharing the United Center with the Bulls and Blackhawks in part because as the primary tenant, DePaul will have full control over dates, including Saturday nights.

    Luke DeCock


RALEIGH What’s surprising isn’t that the Carolina Hurricanes and N.C. State have been exchanging public salvos in the fight over scheduling at PNC Arena. What’s surprising is that there has been so little of this in the 13-plus years the two have been unlikely roommates.

The Hurricanes manage the arena and the Wolfpack is a preferred tenant, which puts the relationship somewhere between an arranged engagement and two stepsiblings from different marriages living under one roof. It’s a recipe for conflict – particularly with a third party, the Centennial Authority that governs the arena, involved as well – yet there has been relatively little of it during the past decade and a half.

The recent dispute over who has the rights to which dates is entirely understandable. Unlike most college teams that share arenas with professional teams as tenants, N.C. State is guaranteed a certain number of priority dates. There has always been an inherent tension there.

When the arena opened in 1999, it had the milquetoast moniker of Entertainment and Sports Arena because the two sides had yet to agree on how to sell the naming rights. The Hurricanes and N.C. State sparred publicly on several fronts, from the color of the seats to the distribution of suite revenue.

In the rush to get the Hurricanes aboard and the arena built, there was a certain degree of ambiguity built into the early contracts between the team and the university. Those areas of dispute had to be hashed out in the early days of the arena, and for many of them, it took the looming millions of the naming rights deal in 2002 to provide the impetus for agreement.

“Things like schedules and parking and banners and suites, all that, all those issues fell into that category,” said Jim Cain, who served first as a lawyer representing the Hurricanes and then as team president through 2003. “Ultimately, both sides would like to have had priority, but both sides understood one side couldn’t exist without each other. The two together make that building functional for the community.”

Once both teams were safely installed in the arena, cooperation proved to be the rule. That included scheduling, a matter complicated by timing. The Hurricanes must submit their available dates to the NHL by June 1, while the ACC basketball schedule typically isn’t finalized until August, and sometimes as late as September. To work around that, for more than a decade the Hurricanes would work directly with the ACC to clear dates for hockey in advance, with N.C. State’s approval.

“Over 10 years, we probably had 50 situations where we needed to work with each other,” former N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler said. “There were probably only two or three where it really became a problem where somebody had to give in. We were always looking out for N.C. State’s best interests, as the Hurricanes were. In 99 percent of those situations, we ended up with that.”

The university has now asserted its right to control those dates directly, a reasonable request that has brought the two sides into open conflict. If history is any indication, there’s a compromise out there, even if it may take a while to get there.

Hurricanes president and general manager Jim Rutherford and N.C. State chancellor Randy Woodson met Friday and will meet again in July after the Hurricanes get through Sunday’s draft and the opening of NHL free agency.

They’ve both remained silent on the matter since then, the most welcome development yet in this most unwelcome unpleasantness.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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