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Ad nauseum

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There is a no doubt that the Carolina faithful are a proud bunch, and heading into this basketball season they're even prouder. And with good cause: They snagged themselves a heck of a coach, who is, by most accounts, a wonderful fellow and, more importantly for some, a member of the UNC family returned to renew faded glory. Storybook stuff, perhaps, but Roy Williams walks into a house in flux.

No one should be shocked, shocked that there are large salaries for those on top of a television-driven entertainment enterprise. That's show biz.

But what is startling is the poor-mouthing that is coming out of what was once a smartly funded athletic juggernaut. Carolina fans used to quietly tut-tut over the state funding of other state school's basketball arenas because they built theirs with private funds, just as the school's administration would tout its athletic graduation rates, its expansive Title IX programs, and note with pride that its stadiums and arenas were devoid of commercialization.

Now, the donor-financed Smith Center costs the state as much as $1 million a year for upkeep, graduation rates are only slightly above the average of UNC's peer institutions, the vast array of what are delicately called "non-revenue" sports--like a lot of departments on campus--are under threat due to state budget cuts, and creeping onto television screens in the Dean Dome and Kenan Stadium are the logos of BMW dealers and insurance firms.

And from the inner sanctum of the school's brotherhood of Big Rams comes word that there's not enough money out there to fund all the scholarships. There's plenty, of course, to supplement the salaries of star faculty, uh, coaches and there's enough money to upgrade a few thousand square feet of practice space and weight rooms, but, gosh, sorry kid we're a few bucks shy this year 'cause of that durn General Assembly.

Though UNC has television and shoe contracts befitting its superstar image, things have not gone well on the gridiron or the hardwood lately, and the lesson of the past few years is that apparently juggernauts--especially in down years--are very expensive to maintain.

To make up the funding gap, the school has started exploring how to gracefully abandon its "no advertising" rule. This fall, the school's Board of Trustees asked Athletic Director Dick Baddour to pull together a task force to study the advertising issue. With a faculty and plenty of supporters well versed in decrying the commercialization of college sports, any move in that direction is going to be hotly debated.

But Carolina is already poised to take the plunge. Temporary logos are already flung onto the basketball court during halftime contests and corporate-sponsored highlight clips run on the big screen at Kenan Stadium and on the dozens of small screens at the Dean Dome. That there might be more isn't a big leap. Let's face it--you don't buy a $2 million Jumbotron for your football stadium just to run inspirational mini-commercials about campus life.

If Carolina does formally abandon the no advertising policy, the change will undoubtedly startle some season ticket holders. But with all the beer and truck ads slammed in during breaks in the action, those of us watching at home will hardly notice.

Lamentably, college "revenue" sports are now no more amateur than Chapel Hill is a quaint little village. Sure, it'll be disconcerting to see that giant logo of whatever corporate interest wins the bidding war, but again, that's show biz. And when you get through whining about that, would you mind passing the Brie?

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