I know, I know … this whole debate over student ticket distribution at the University of Wisconsin is getting old. Really old.
When it comes to selling tickets for the Big Three – Badger football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey – this university has changed its policies, like, what, 38 times in the last four years?
We’ve seen football tickets sell out in a week, seen ’em sell out in three days, and seen ’em sell out before half the student body even knows they’re on sale, resulting in a giant, angry debate across campus that somehow never turned into a riot.
We’ve seen tickets turn into vouchers, which turn into wristbands, which turn back into vouchers.
We’ve seen kids camp out for good seats, we’ve seen the institution of half-season ticket packages, and we’ve seen online purchasing turn into the most frustrating system ever: the dreaded lotteries, where everyone has an equal chance regardless of passion for the Badgers.
Some people may not care about this. They might think, well, the university’s doing fine and the student sections are just as rowdy, and hey, who cares if diehard fans are shut out and people are strolling into the games 15, 20, or even 30 minutes late?
Let me tell you something: it is a big deal. Whether you realize it or not, it is absolutely embarrassing, on a weekly basis, to see the Grateful Red or the Crease Creatures be half-full during the national anthem, and then watch kids stream in slowly well after the game begins.
Going to road trips around the Big Ten and across the country, I’ve often wondered just how other universities do it. How is it that members of their student section are punctual (sometimes an hour before game time)?
So I talked to a few ticket offices that represent the best basketball student sections around the Big Ten and NCAA, and here are a few snippets of what I found.
Marquette, Wisconsin’s cross-state rival, has an extremely impressive basketball following; despite an undergrad enrollment of 11,500, the Bradley Center hosts 4,000 deafening students every game (one of the larger student sections in the country). And remember, Milwaukee isn’t exactly a rinky-dink college town with nothing else to do.
Seating is first-come, first-served. Get there early, get a better seat. Fairly simple strategy.
Defending national champion Kansas has an interesting format for filling the student section; if people don’t show up by a certain time (usually close to tipoff), students in the stand-by line are admitted as room allows. Gee, ya think the Rock Chalkers make sure to leave a little extra buffer time in there before gametime? Apparently so; for most big games, the student section is 70 percent full two hours before game time (Insert Lawrence, Kan. joke here).
At Duke University, undergrads can only get tickets on a game-to-game basis, and have to camp out for the big games (a Duke official claims that kids will wait in line for a week for the big Duke-North Carolina showdown). Grad students, meanwhile, register for season tickets and are put into a lottery, much like Wisconsin’s undergrad policy. Based on Duke’s high tuition, student tickets are free.
Michigan State basically forces its students to get to every game and get there on time, because that information is recorded and used to determine which 3,200 students will get tickets. It also hosts a two-day “Izzone Campout”, which sounds like how UW basketball and hockey fans used to camp out, only there’s a bit more university involvement and organization.
Both Duke and Kansas’ campuses, according to their ticket offices, are littered with tents and campers consistently throughout basketball season; as soon as one home game ends, the line for the next game begins. Line monitors are staffed to maintain order and orderly conduct.
Duke, Kansas, and Michigan State also both swipe student IDs rather than issuing tickets; the scalping-minded students (you know, like the UW students who enter the lottery with the sole intention of selling off their season package for $700) cannot be happy about this.
These schools all have vastly different ticket policies than Wisconsin’s; perhaps it’s a consideration for the good folks down in Kellner Hall to transfer their Camp Randall seating arrangement (first-come, first-served) over to the Kohl Center. That’s for Barry Alvarez, Vince Sweeney and the athletic department to decide.
But it’s worth noting one other big-time school that runs a very similar operation to UW, and that’s Illinois.
Illinois and Wisconsin each have an undergrad enrollment of around 30,000. Illinois chooses to admit a larger student section, with 3,500 members of the Orange Krush compared to the Grateful Red’s 2,100.
Illinois does require its students to come to Assembly Hall to purchase tickets, while Wisconsin, of course, still has its lottery. Every student, freshman or senior, sports die-hard or sports virgin, has the same opportunity to go get tickets.
But get this: in the case of both universities, once the season-ticket holders have been determined, a points system is put into play. Illinois’ system takes year in school, number of years having bought football and basketball tickets, and the time of purchase into consideration.
Tickets are issued (no scanning of IDs) and they cost $150 a season, about the same as Wisconsin. Everyone has the same seat for the entire season, just like Wisconsin.
So Illinois has a similar system to Wisconsin, and in recent years has had about the same success as a basketball program.
Who’d like to explain to the class why the Orange Krush is FULL well before every tipoff … while the Grateful Red is just full of holes? That’s not on the athletic department. That’s on the student body.
Neither group is absolved from blame on this subject. The university has to get rid of the lotteries to ensure the diehards get tickets, and consider first-come, first-served methods along with other incentives to coax students into arriving on time or even early.
The students? Buy a watch or something. Start showing up on time … because until they do, the Camp and the Kohl student sections will remain second-rate.
Aaron is a former Badger Herald sports editor. The student section debate rages on at [email protected].