Pomp and consequences
This weekend kicks off a big week for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Festivities to officially launch Carol Folt’s chancellorship – although she’s been on the job since July – began Thursday. They were to peak Saturday with Folt’s official installation held, as is traditional, on University Day. That annual event commemorates the 1793 laying of the cornerstone of Old East, the first building at the nation’s oldest public university and a hallowed day in itself.
The celebration of Folt’s installation continues today with some of her key constituents – the young men and women getting an education at UNC – on center stage. The student-only “Folk Fest” is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. in Polk Place on campus.
Then, Thursday, ESPN brings the circus to town for the UNC-Miami football game, an event that in and of itself would be a major event. With ESPN televising the game nationally in the uncrowded spotlight of a Thursday-night game, the town and university are seizing the opportunity to make the party even bigger.
That spotlight, at least until game time, will shine brightly on downtown.
Tar Heel Town is being moved from near Kenan Stadium to West Franklin Street, which will be closed from Columbia to Mallette streets from 4 p.m., to 7 p.m. Thursday.
The town’s hope – which seems imminently realistic – is that the thousands of alumni in town for the game and other fans will flock to Franklin Street. With a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, the opportunities for shopping and dining downtown will be abundant.
“It’s kind of like a perfect storm,” said Meg McGurk, executive director of the Downtown Partnership, told the Chapel Hill Herald’s Gregory Childress last month. “It’s a great opportunity have everything downtown.”
To UNC’s misfortune, however, the upcoming Miami game is not the only reason the Tar Heel football team is in the news right now. A growing stream of indictments for violating the state’s laws regarding sports agents are being unsealed at the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough.
Invoking the state’s law that prohibits agents from giving athletes anything of value before they sign a contract, District Attorney Jim Woodall is acting on his belief that improper agent activity is “something we need to take seriously.”
“Everybody allows it to go on, it’s just a wink and a nod,” Woodall said last week when the second indictment –and the first against an agent – was made public. “I think people’s attention needs to be brought to this. I mean, it’s against the law.”
The indictments resurrect the memory of the 2010 scandal over athletics and agents that tainted UNC’s once-spotless football program. Athletes linked to the agent payments cited in the indictments were at the center of that scandal, which brought NCAA sanctions against the university.
It’s unfortunate the indictments are shadowing the chancellor installation and the Miami-game festivities. But they are a grim reminder that consequences of the transgressions will haunt the university for years to come.