by Matt Kupec
February 23, 2020
Doesn’t it feel sometimes like the world today is turned upside down? When something you could count on just isn’t measuring up to the normal ways?
Well, that’s the way it feels with the current state of UNC Tar Heel athletics. Specifically, I am referencing the UNC basketball and football programs.
Quick history lesson. Every fall, the UNC football season starts, the Tar Heels lose a September game and the Tar Heel boosters are heard to be saying, “when does basketball start” as they leave Kenan Stadium after a gridiron loss. Just a few games into the season and already the fans have given up on the fortunes for a successful Tar Heel football season!
All the attention – and fan enthusiasm – turns to basketball early in the fall season in anticipation of another successful basketball season. Then, and almost always, the Tar Heel basketball program delivers. Often in the form of national championships.
My senior year as the UNC QB, we started 4-0 and were ranked 12th in the nation, facing an undefeated Wake Forest team at home. We lost a tough game and I remember my brother Chris, a former Tar Heel All-ACC QB, telling me after that game how the fans – even with our impressive start – were asking each other on the exit from Kenan Stadium, “when does basketball season start?”
It’s been that way since the beginning of UNC athletics. After all, In the rich, storied history of UNC basketball, there have been only 10 losing seasons in the 110 years of UNC basketball. The impressive consistency of UNC to win year after year has placed UNC basketball in the elite of college hoops.
UNC football, however, is a different story. In the 132 seasons of playing football, UNC has weathered through 42 losing seasons. Yes, 42 losing seasons! The Tar Heels are not quite the blue blood of college football.
As I watched the undermanned Tar Heel basketball team fall to Notre Dame and Louisville this week – leaving the Heels in last place in the ACC with an overall record of 10-17 – I couldn’t help but think might this be the year the Tar Heels faithful might be looking forward to the start of next year’s football season. Perhaps even a hint of “when does football start?”
UNC football this past fall brought a level of optimism and excitement perhaps unseen in its very average history. The return of Hall of Fame Coach Mack Brown sparked an interest and passion for UNC football that hasn’t probably ever been rivaled at any time throughout UNC’s football history.
Despite going just 7-6 there seems to be an optimism about next season that has fans thinking about a Coastal Division championship and a chance at dethroning Clemson in the ACC Championship game. With a great quarterback returning, talent at the skill positions, great recruiting class and favorable schedule, football fever in Chapel Hill is catching on!
Might this be the year the Tar Heel faithful are thinking about football during basketball season?
Of course, this season is most likely an anomaly. The basketball squad has suffered through a series of injuries and tough late second losses. But under Coach Roy Williams the Heels will rebound and with a top recruiting class the Tar Heels will go into next season as a Top Ten pick. And, who knows, this year’s team might even make a magical run during the ACC Basketball tournament.
But, for a short brief period in UNC’s history, this might be the only season ever in which the fans might be more excited about football than basketball.
Basketball will return quickly to glory. But Coach Brown is building a program that promises to make fans excited for great football and not just a period to wait until basketball starts.
Yes, the world feels upside down in many ways!! But for the Tar Heel faithful that may be a good thing as fans can be excited about the fortunes of both basketball and football.
About the Author
Matt Kupec is a fundraising professional with 32 years of significant higher education development experience. He has directed four major university fundraising campaigns and nearly $5 billion has been raised under his leadership. He has led the fundraising programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hofstra University, Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and HelpMeSee, a New York City based non-profit. He is currently serving as Senior In-House Fundraising Counsel for Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, leading SIU’s recently extended campaign with an increased goal from $75 million to $200 million.
Matt is a former record-breaking four year starting quarterback for the UNC Tar Heels. During his career he set 19 season and career passing records. Two of which still stand — most consecutive games with a TD pass and most wins as a starting QB. Matt also set the ACC record for TD passes his senior year at UNC. Matt was named MVP of the 1977 Liberty Bowl and the 1979 Gator Bowl becoming the 1st player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to be named MVP of two bowl games.