In theory, a lottery is a great idea.

Then again, so is Communism. In theory.

Lotteries are fair; they give everyone an equal chance for glory. But in my mind, lotteries should follow the path of the dodo bird. Megabucks: you’re better off investing in another bag of Cheetos. David Stern’s NBA Draft Lottery: makes as much sense as taking a speech therapy class taught by Mike Tyson. The 2008 UW student football season ticket process: here’s my official stamp of disapproval.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if your Chevy Impala needs a new muffler, you don’t total it and go get a used Dodge Intrepid. But unfortunately, that’s essentially what happened here.

In spring 2007, the Wisconsin Athletic Department implemented a first-come, first-serve system for student season tickets for the upcoming season. Because tickets sold out in 72 hours, the system rewarded the loyal Badger fans who circled their calendars and set multiple alarms so they wouldn’t be ticketless when Washington State came to town on Sept. 1. I remember sitting in the dugout during my club baseball game, calling my mom the minute tickets went on sale — assuming they’d sell out before I returned to Sellery Hall — to make sure she signed up properly, as did a number of my teammates. Why? Because we bled cardinal and white. We lived for Saturday mornings, the only days when waking up hungover at 8 a.m. wasn’t a near-death experience.

The only problem with the 2007 system was the lack of communication on the part of the athletic department, which was subsequently inundated with complaints from students who claimed to be uninformed about the date tickets became available. Apparently not everyone got the e-mail reminders, and the sidewalk chalk public service announcements didn’t serve as productive methods, either.

Who would have thought?

So in an attempt to mend its mistakes, the athletic department implemented a lottery system last spring. Students could enter their names between June 15 and June 30 and were notified about the results days later. 2,000 tickets were allocated for each class, 500 were left for graduate students, and the remaining 5,100 were drawn in the weighted lottery, favoring the school’s elders. Approximately 19,000 students applied during the 16-day grace period. The Camp Randall student section sits (well, stands) about 13,600, meaning about 5,400 tuition-paying individuals came out empty-handed, many of whom were seniors who had had season tickets for multiple UW sports since they signed the dotted line as high schoolers.

To me, that’s an issue. And like you, I wanted answers, so I picked up the phone and called Vince Sweeney, UW’s senior associate athletic director. Sweeney explained the department’s fear for another first-come, first-serve system. He said that each year they’ve implemented it, tickets went from selling out in a month, to a week, to three days, so the department was afraid of tickets going in an hour, the system crashing and all hell breaking loose.

Understandable, but I don’t see the selling out curve as exponential. If tickets came and went in 72 hours a year before, I find it hard to believe that they’d vanish in an instant 12 months later. There’s got to be a wall at some point, and if they go in one day, I see that as ideal anyway, for it would reward the calendar-circlers even more.

During my 25-minute phone conversation with Sweeney, we both agreed the biggest issue under this whole umbrella is the fact that so many students apply for tickets with one football-less goal in mind: Turning a profit. I say, don’t hate the player, hate the game. It sucks, but can you really fault them for taking advantage of the system? You can’t blame the Steinbrenners for having a $200 million payroll. It’s not their fault baseball has no salary cap.

The athletic department has student representatives on its board and they, along with the staff decided that this lottery was the best, fairest way to sell student tickets.

“We felt that moving to a lottery was the best route to go,” Sweeney explained.

But giving students 16 days to sign up invites the scalping-minded entrepreneurs to type in their credit card numbers, right? The first-come, first-serve system weeds out many of those students, leaving the end zone packed with kids who actually care about the success of the team who didn’t have to pay $500 for tickets on Craigslist.

The simplest solution to all of this would be to expand the student section, but I understand that’s not in the athletic department’s best interest, for salary-earning adults shell out more Benjamins per seat than those taking classes. Fine, but why is Wisconsin’s student section the fourth-smallest (relative to total seats) in the Big Ten? Perhaps it’s because there’s no limit on non-student season tickets per person, meaning Bucky Badger from Beloit can have 40 tickets and sell them on the street for twice face value on game day.

A problem? I think so, too.

Approximately 17 percent of Camp Randall seats belong to students, compared to 29 percent in The Horseshoe in Columbus. Michigan guarantees season tickets to all of its students. No other school in the conference currently uses a lottery to sell their season football tickets; they’re all first-come, first-serve. Maybe they know something that our department doesn’t.

“We’re happy with the results of the lottery,” Sweeney continued.

He seems to be in the vast minority, especially if you ask UW’s graduating class of 2009. Loyal seniors shouldn’t be ticketless at the expense of freshmen; the youngsters will have plenty of other chances.

“It’s impossible to measure loyalty,” Sweeney argued. “Remember when you were a freshman? Remember how important it was?”

My name wasn’t called during my rookie campaign. Disappointing, yes, but I survived, and I understood my place at the bottom of the student food chain.

I do agree loyalty is tough to gauge, but there might not be much alumni loyalty left in the not-so-distant future if students’ final memories continue to be like those of so many NCAA tournament bubble teams on Selection Sunday: snubbed.

There may be no such thing as a perfect system. Every method has its flaws. I applaud the athletic department for attempting to make things right. But my suggestion: Head back to the drawing boards.

Derek is a junior majoring in economics. Let him know your thoughts about the student ticket process at [email protected]

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