UNC to be road team for 2015 football game with South Carolina in Charlotte

jjones@charlotteobserver.comMay 9, 2013 

UNC09-SP-090112-RTW

UNC head coach Larry Fedora leads his team into Kenan Stadium for their season opener against Elon on Saturday September 1, 2012 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

A white North Carolina football helmet placed on a table at Bank of America Stadium was replaced by a blue helmet on Thursday morning.

Just before a press conference formally announcing the 2015 season-opener between UNC and South Carolina, the two schools’ athletics directors flipped a coin to see which school would be the home team.

South Carolina won the toss, and the teams expect to play in front of a sell-out crowd at Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 5, 2015 when the rivals face each other for just the fourth time since 1991.

“It’s obviously a very, very difficult schedule having played Clemson on an annual basis and adding this game to the schedule,” South Carolina AD Ray Tanner said. “But I also think it’s fair to say in the best interest of all the schools, going forward with the football championship playoff, that your strength of schedule will play a major factor if you have an opportunity at the end of the year. This is a tremendous enhancement for both of our schedules.”

The conversations between the schools and with the Charlotte Sports Foundation began more than a year ago, and both Tanner and North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham toured the stadium last fall when the Panthers hosted the Giants for a Thursday night primetime game.

Will Webb, the executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, said the hope is the two teams will meet again in Charlotte by 2019, when the Tar Heels would be the home team.

“The opening games were popular 10-15 years ago, and then everyone seemed to want to open at home and maybe get a win,” Cunningham said. “Now you’re starting to see the Labor Day games because there’s no professional football that weekend and it gives great exposure to college football. And a non-conference game like this really sets the tone for your season.”

Each school will get 12,500 tickets, with the Charlotte Sports Foundation controlling the distribution of the remaining tickets for the 73,778-seat stadium. South Carolina has the TV rights for the game by virtue of the coin toss, and a game time is still being worked out.

South Carolina has seven home games in 2015, and North Carolina has six. Cunningham said the school does not want to dip below six games each season, and the Gamecocks had to move their meeting with East Carolina to a later year in order to fit this game.

For the Tar Heels, the 2015 game will serve as its marquee non-conference game for the year, a model they hope to have in place each year going forward.

“We have Notre Dame in ’14, South Carolina in ’15 and Ohio State beyond that (in 2017 and 2018),” Cunningham said. “It’s starting to build out to a longer schedule. We have to have a great nonconference game to really put ourselves in a position for the playoffs.”

The two programs will meet on Aug. 29 this year in Columbia. It will be the first game between the schools since 2007, when the Gamecocks won 21-15 in Chapel Hill.

And just as the rivalry is renewing between the schools, the Charlotte Sports Foundation hopes to make this season-opening game an annual event with a sponsor.

Much like the popular Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in the Georgia Dome each year, Charlotte could have its own annual season-opening game in the near future.

“Our board would like us, eventually down the road, to have a game every year,” Webb said. “Logistically, that’s tough. We’re working on it. They set the bar pretty high, but they also give us the support we need to make it happen.”

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