CHAPEL HILL N.C. (WNCN) – With the highly-anticipated Final Four matchup between Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill less than two days away, law enforcement in Chapel Hill is not waiting to prepare for potentially rowdy crowds Saturday night.
Tar Heel fans hope to flood Franklin Street in the event of a Tar Heels win.
“We’d love to have a chance to be out there and celebrate,” UNC Vice Chancellor of Student Success Jonathan Sauls said. “It is a big tradition, but what we really want students to know is to celebrate safely.”
Chapel Hill fire and police departments have already coordinated traffic changes and contingency plans depending on how the game goes.
“We have plans,” Chapel Hill fire marshal Chris Wells said. “We have done this before, but we have never done it to this level. This is an unprecedented matchup.”
Sauls said that matchup could bring thousands to the area, like he has seen in previous Final Four runs.
“We have about 30-plus thousand students, but you may have 55,000 to 60,000 people out there celebrating,” Sauls said.
Officials want to warn people that illegal fireworks and bonfires, like those seen at previous celebrations, could have serious consequences.
In fact, UNC’s Jaycee Burn Center has treated multiple people for severe burns in the past after Tar Heel celebrations got out of hand.
“People get intoxicated, get too close to it (the bonfires) and they fall over,” Jaycee Burn Center Director Dr. Booker King said. “I have even seen a case where somebody tried to jump over, being very intoxicated, and unfortunately fell right into it.”
Win or lose, it will be a busy Final Four weekend for law enforcement as it also checks area businesses for capacity limits and watches for alcohol violations.
“We’re still preparing to be here whether Carolina loses,” Wells said. “We are going to be here Monday night regardless.”
Parking will be super tight on Saturday, as the town will start restricting spots on Franklin Street at 1 p.m. to get ready for a potential closure later that night.
The university is also putting on a watch party at the Dean Smith Center. Doors open at 5:45 p.m. Saturday.
“The fact that we are rivals just nine miles apart, and our schools collaborate on so many things, we have a lot of ways that we complement each other,” Sauls said. “But, on the court, my goodness, we are just the ultimate rivals.”