Why students can't get basketball tickets

This year more than 8,000 students entered the lottery for half-season tickets to UA basketball games. A lot of them walked away empty-handed. Horror stories abound of people who have entered the lottery four or five times and failed to get tickets each time. So the Wildcat decided to take a look at the number of basketball tickets the University of Arizona allots for students compared with other schools.

The University of Oregon allocates 4,000 student tickets for an arena that seats 10,063 people. That's close to 40 percent of seats for students. Oregon State University allocates 3,500 student tickets for an arena that seats 10,400. That's 33 percent. The first 1,000 University of Washington students at home basketball games get into the arena free. But these schools don't have basketball programs with national reputations.

University of California-Berkeley allocates 1,700 student tickets for 6,600-seat Harmon Hall. That's 28 percent. Basketball powerhouse Duke University has 3,500 student tickets near the floor of 12,000-seat Cameron Arena. That's more than 29 percent.

For the 1994-95 basketball season, the University of Arizona athletic department allocated 2,538 seats for students in the 14,000-seat McKale Center. That's about 18 percent of all seats in McKale Center. Of the 10 schools surveyed, only one had a lower percentage of student basketball tickets than the UA: No. 1-ranked University of Arkansas with 13 percent of all tickets allocated for students.

Last year, UA home basketball games generated more than $2,845,000 in ticket revenue for the UA athletic department. Note how we said the UA athletic department. The budget for the athletic department is separate from the general budget of the University of Arizona. The money generated by athletics stays within the department. The department may indirectly generate funds for the school (i.e. alumni contributions), but none of the money from ticket sales goes back to the students.

Part of the reason there are so few student tickets can be blamed on our predecessors. About the time Lute Olson came to town, the general public began to snatch up season basketball tickets. Students were slow in responding to the basketball team's success and by the time they did, the general public already had the seats for life. Since the athletic department can't just take away seats from longtime season ticket holders, there has been a limited number of student tickets. So we have to vie in the lottery for half-season tickets.

Then again, 350 seats were recently added to McKale Center. It would have been a perfect opportunity to add a significant number of student seats, right? But of those 350 seats, the athletic department allocated 20 percent to students and put the rest up for sale to the public. John Perrin, senior associate director of business affairs for the department, said the department has a long-standing agreement with the UA student government that 20 percent of all new seats go to students.

Why didn't all of the new seats go to UA students? The athletic department is making close to $3 million on ticket revenue alone, not including the money the department will receive from the Final Four appearance. The department is already making more than enough money, none of which is going back to the student body.

Maybe the student ticket allotment could also have something to do with Lute Olson's criticism of "fair-weather" fans. When a significant number of tickets are sold to people not directly affiliated with the university, it is not surprising when the crowd is fickle. If people come because they want to be entertained and root for a winning team, they'll complain when the team isn't in "peak" condition. However, students have a vested interest in seeing the team win. The University of Arizona is their school and the players are their peers. When teams go to Duke's Cameron Arena, they expect 3,500 rabid fans screaming in their faces the whole game. When teams go to McKale Center, they can expect an older, generally well behaved crowd.

We understand the importance of the university reaching out to the Tucson community, but the last time we checked the team was called the University of Arizona Wildcats, not the Tucson Wildcats.

20 percent just doesn't cut it.

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