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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “If you don’t go, section should be reduced”

    Michael Schwartz
    Michael Schwartz

    For years it was the hottest ticket in Tucson, reserved as a status symbol for the city’s elite and important enough to riot for or pray for some lottery luck for students.

    But what was once unthinkable is now reality: Students for one reason or another just refuse to sell out the student section that they begged to have for so many years.

    Some said it was a nonconference schedule with games against Nevada-Las Vegas and New Mexico State instead of what is to come in the conference season, with No. 4 UCLA and No. 15 Oregon as well as No. 1 North Carolina. Others had better things to do on a school night.

    But last year, even in the season finale against then-No. 14 Washington on a Saturday afternoon that would have given the Wildcats the No. 2 seed in the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament, the section failed to ever be 100 percent full.

    This year has been far worse.

    According to James Francis, UA assistant athletic director in charge of ticket sales, students have bought an average of 542 tickets for the four regular-season and two exhibition games this season in the 2,500-person section, maxing out with 769 tickets sold for the Nov. 19 game against New Mexico State. Five hundred and forty-two.

    The general public bought some student tickets when they became available, but there were still many unoccupied seats.

    On the contrary, when tickets were open to the general public for the winter break games with more time to buy them than the limited period they get after students get first dibs during the regular season, all four games were packed. Just like old times, it appeared as if there were no empty seats in the building, and McKale was loud, even with a building full of so-called “”old people.””

    “”We can’t ignore that many empty seats when there’s such a demand for tickets,”” Francis said.

    After the win over then-No. 18 Memphis on Dec. 20, both UA head coach Lute Olson and guard Jawann McClellan praised the student-section-less crowd.

    “”Nothing against the student section, but I mean, if we keep getting crowds like that,”” McClellan said in the locker room, “”I mean they were behind us the whole game, and I think we needed them for our home-court advantage tonight.””

    Of course the problem isn’t the diehards. There’s a certain group of students that may consider giving their right arm for tickets, but once you get past the seats in the front, things get pretty empty.

    If things don’t change, the athletics department would be crazy not to look into making some adjustments. The math doesn’t add up if students are leaving money on the table and seats without fans in an atmosphere that should befit the top-10 team that the Wildcats are, which concerns Zona Zoo director Michael Huston.

    “”Increasingly, it’s more difficult for me to explain to the athletics department why we should have these seats when they’re not sold,”” Huston said.

    Francis made it clear that the section is not in immediate jeopardy and that the athletics department wants students in those seats, but he said people in the community are asking about them.

    “”We want the students to have all their seats, and we want them to show up and fill the student section,”” Francis said. “”Not that we want to take seats back, but we’re going to have to look at if these seats are not filled up, what are we going to do with them? We have to see what happens.””

    “”We have to see what happens”” means students are out of excuses for the year and need to come out to support one of the most exciting college basketball teams in the nation. This isn’t ASU basketball we’re talking about, this is a squad that averages 86.5 points per game, third-best nationally, and ranks 10th in the country with a starting lineup full of future pros.

    Despite losing in overtime Saturday at Washington State, the Wildcats had been on the winning side in their last 12 and are in the thick of the nation’s toughest conference race.

    Also, if you watch college basketball on any given Saturday, which fans give the other squad the most trouble? Without question it’s the students.

    “”I love the students, you know, I want them to be at the games,”” McClellan said after the Wildcats beat Stanford Dec. 30. “”Something has to happen because of course we want our students to support us.””

    Earlier in the season Zona Zoo had the gall to ask Olson to make a video urging students to come to a game. That’s typically not in the job description of a coach approaching 800 career wins.

    People have complained that the new online signup process is too complicated. But even a caveman would be able to figure out how to go to the Zona Zoo Web site, spend a minute registering his pass, and then never have to deal with that problem again.

    And of course nobody has to worry about waking up early when tickets become available at 6 a.m. the Monday before games since they’re still available at tip-off.

    For anybody who complains about the price increase, $10 per ticket instead of $6 per game and a $48 increase for the season, just look at what the “”old people”” across the way are paying, and what the athletic department could be charging for your seats if they made a portion of them general admission seats.

    Depending on where they’re located, those $10 seats become $66, $41, $31 or $18, the price for general admission seating for the general public in the student section, not to mention seat licenses and other charges if the athletics department could sell some student seats to the general public as season tickets in the future.

    But Huston said the athletics department’s mantra is that they will take a financial hit to put students in those seats but not to put nobody in those seats.

    “”Taking that loss is really about making sure those seats are utilized and the priority is the students,”” Francis said. “”They’re student-assigned. We want students to have them, but if they don’t fill them, then what do you do?””

    If students don’t start to fill the section, what you do is take away the upper section and half of the second below it.

    And I don’t mean only fill it for North Carolina and UCLA, but also pack the stands for every other conference game, most of which should be very competitive.

    Students have clamored for years for their own section, but if they don’t show up, nobody should be surprised if changes are rightfully made.

    Michael Schwartz is a journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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