This is not a particularly pleasant piece to write. It will be a somewhat scathing look at where the Athletic Department stands at UNC Charlotte. But one thing that needs to be clear is this: This is not targeted to any student-athlete, coach, AD staffer or university employee not named Judy Rose or Dr. Phil Dubois. This is entirely directed at the state of athletics at the university under their guidance.
The Charlotte 49ers last made the NCAA in 2005. Barring a conference tournament championship the team will have missed the tournament for a dozen years. Those that have been around the program a while remember those days of Eddie Basden and Curtis Withers; however, if you are a Freshman at UNC Charlotte you were 6 or 7 years old when we last made the big dance. One might say that all teams experience droughts, and they do, but few are longer than Charlotte’s. Since the Niners have last made the NCAA tournament 218 different NCAA DI programs have danced. Our last tournament win was 2001. Those same Freshman were 2 or 3 years old.
In that time, attendance in Halton Arena has dropped precipitously.
In 2005, with the team experiencing several weeks in the Top 25, Halton Arena attendance topped out at 7,577/game. Since that time Halton Arena has progressively become quieter and emptier with two notable exceptions. Prior to the 2008 season (2007-2008), former Head Coach Bobby Lutz famously wrote a letter to the community declaring his was “All-in” following an offseason where he was encouraged to seek employment elsewhere, leading to consideration of a University of Southern Alabama offer which he ultimately rejected. Concomitant with that, AJ Mead put together a terrific promo video (original quality was much higher) and interns with the AD crashed dorms along with players to drive up student attendance. It was a refreshing season despite only an NIT bid in which a young team of mostly newcomers (Leemire Goldwire withstanding) nearly reached the NCAA tournament.
The second exception was last season following new head coach Mark Price’s hiring. Attendance nudged up from 4,376/game to 4,667/game. Cynics can fairly point out that’s just a couple hundred more people per game but Price and his staff deserve the time to put their trademark on the program. This column is not about them in any capacity.
Another popular narrative is NCAA viewership is down. While that is true, looking at the graph it’s quite evident that the decline is only marginal but the comparison brings a shocking observation: Charlotte 49er average attendance has fallen below average attendance across all of Division I. As a reminder, the urban area immediately surrounding Charlotte is 1.2 million people, meaning to fill Halton the AD has to convince less than 1 in every 100 people in the region to show up for a game.
Even more troubling is the persistent and increased reliance on Student Fees to fund the AD. Fees have steadily risen over the past dozen years with no success to show for it.
Football was of course added and that is a substantial financial burden; however, students voted overwhelmingly in favor to fund the program in part with student fees. That fee was graduated in and is currently at $300/student. Forgetting about the money to fund football for a moment, another thing to consider is the growth of the university’s student enrollment. Current fees for athletics are $802/full-time student/year. If you subtract $300 for football, that leaves $502/full-time student/year. Since 2005, our last NCAA tournament appearance, full-time student equivalents have risen from 17,070 to 26,275 for the Fall 2016-2017 semester. Translation? Despite no success and no new programs, the AD has millions more each year in fees to spend on athletic programs. That fee will rise another $22 next year. Students, what are you buying for these fees? Dr. Phil Dubois indicted some trepidation on the matter in comments previously made to the Charlotte Observer; however, he has remained quite silent on the topic in subsequent years.
What this ultimately boils down to is accountability. The AD can fault the community for not supporting the programs; however, it is not the community’s job to fundraise. It is the responsibility of the AD to do this. It is up to some higher power (Phil Dubois) to hold the AD accountable. Judy Rose wants to take credit for starting football at UNC Charlotte. That’s fine, but then she must also take credit for what has happened to the basketball program. But as long as the program can balance the checkbook with Student Fees, not good enough to win seems to be good enough for Dubois and Rose.
Spending in excess of well over $100 million in student fees since the past NCAA tournament is not good enough. Not for students, not for alumni, not for community boosters. The Charlotte 49ers need a new voice. Someone to take the program in new directions. To listen to fresh ideas. To pursue initiatives to grow the 49er Club and not to be heavily reliant on the same high-contributing boosters (by the way, they also deserve MUCH more for their support than they’ve received) year-in and year-out.
Rose has been the AD at Charlotte since 1990 – 26 years. Based on this publication less than 5% of all DI ADs have a tenure equal to or longer than Rose. That’s an entire generation worth of influence on the direction of Charlotte 49er athletics. No one should have that type of control unless they are maintaining an uncharacteristic level of success, something that can not be said for the Niners. Simply put, it’s time for a new AD at Charlotte. Phil Dubois, what are you waiting for?