Tourney tickets hard to come by

By Jessica Schuh

The success of this year’s men’s basketball team, coupled with the proximity of the Big Ten conference and NCAA tournament games, has created a bigger challenge than usual for the Chancellor’s Post-Season Planning Committee, who had the task of distributing tickets to each event.

The University received 2,400 tickets to hand out for the Big Ten Tournament on March 10-13. Provided Illinois makes the NCAA tournament, which starts March 17, the NCAA will give the University 350 tickets for both the first and second round of the NCAA tournament. If the Illini advance to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, the third and fourth round, the University gets 1,250 tickets per game; reaching the Final Four or the Championship game on April 4 will net the University 4,500 tickets each.

Each year, the committee must decide how these tickets should be allotted, said Larry Mann, University’s associate chancellor and chair of the planning committee. Because there are so many season ticket holders and demand for tournament tickets is so high, distributing the relatively small number of tickets is especially challenging this year, Mann said.

“Ideally, we’d like to have five times as many tickets to distribute to everyone,” he said.

Robin Jentes, associate director of communications for the Big Ten, said each school in the conference could request up to 1,000 tickets for the Big Ten Tournament. Some schools request less or do not sell all of their tickets, however. The remaining tickets are then distributed among schools that request more because of the larger demand, such as the University.

Jentes said the Big Ten had fewer tickets left over this year because the public sale went so well. Several rounds only have standing-room-only tickets available. She attributed the success to the early sale of single-session tickets as well as the fact that the tournament is in Chicago and Illinois’ team is ranked first in the nation.

The NCAA distributes tournament tickets equally to each team as it advances to the next level, said L. J. Wright, director of Division I men’s basketball championship. The number of tickets made available depends on the size of the arena and increases as the tournament goes on, he said. Tickets not made available to the teams’ schools are sold to the general public and others such as local organizing committees, conferences and the National Association of Basketball Coaches, he said.

The post-season planning committee starts by looking at the percentages of Assembly Hall season-ticket holders that are students and the percentage of non-student season ticket holders, then try to distribute tournament tickets accordingly, Mann said.

“This year, for the first time, there were no single game tickets,” Mann said. “Everyone had season tickets.”

This season, 4,246 or 26 percent of the season ticket holders are students, according to ticket sales. Using this number, the committee decided 25 percent of the Big Ten and NCAA tournament tickets should go to students and 75 percent to non-students, Mann said. The only exception is for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament – students are offered half of them.

The 25 percent given to students include those made available to basketball players for their families, cheerleaders, the pep band, students on the athletic board, the Orange Krush and other student season ticket holders, Mann said.

Mann said the committee must make sure that the donors receive tickets because a major portion of the athletic program’s funding comes from the donors. Although not all season-ticket holders that have made donations will be offered tickets because of the limited number available, Mann said giving them the opportunity to purchase post-season tickets is a “recognition of the significance of their support.”

“The donor base is a very real constituency that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Mark Perkes, president of Orange Krush, said he thinks the University does a fair job distributing the tickets.

“When you think about it, you have to be realistic,” Perkes, junior in business, said. “As much money as these people are giving, they deserve the tickets.”

The Orange Krush sells tickets to members within the group who raised the most amount of money.

All but approximately 5 percent of the non-student tickets are made available to non-student season ticket holders who have made donations to the athletic program, Mann said.

The remaining 5 percent are used for “institutional advancement” and are offered to major contributors to the University, University officials and a limited numbers of state-elected officials.

“We have some other institutional needs that legitimately need to be satisfied,” Mann said.

Most of these tickets go to those who make substantial donations to the University, although some decline the tickets because of their schedule or location, he said. University representatives, such as the Board of Trustees, chancellors, and athletic board members are offered tickets as well.

Each year, requests come in from state legislators asking to purchase tickets. While the committee is unable to fulfill the great majority, Mann said the committee will likely offer tickets to eight or 10 legislators. Mann said selling tickets to elected officials will become more of a question if the Illini advance into the regionals and the Final Four.

“(The tournament) is a celebratory event for the campus and a celebratory event for the state of Illinois,” he said.

For those fans who will not have the opportunity to purchase tickets through the University, there are other options such as going to the arena to purchase tickets from people as their teams lose or looking online for tickets, Mann said. He said he knows buying tickets this way is often very expensive and not an option for many people, but there are preliminary plans in place for a celebration on campus for fans to enjoy one or more of the tournament rounds in a party atmosphere.

Barbara Hundley, vice president of Alumni Relations, is working with the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics to plan a celebration for the Final Four tournament. An exact time or location has not been set, but students, alumni and the general public would be welcome, she said.

“I would say it will be pretty cool on campus (during the tournament),” Perkes said.

Although Perkes hopes to go to the games, he said the atmosphere is not as exciting because the venues are so big and there are a relatively small number of people from Illinois.

“I have talked to a lot of people (without tickets to the Final Four) who are deciding if they want to go to St. Louis or stay on campus,” Perkes said. “I would rather stay here on campus, to be honest.”