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U. of Pittsburgh
Pitt students dunked in ticket scramble

Only 40 seats available via a lottery

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

By Michael A. Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Excitement swept across the University of Pittsburgh campus yesterday as students rejoiced at the news that the Panthers not only would play in the NCAA Tournament, but would essentially be playing at home with a first-round game at Mellon Arena.

Pitt student Colleen Daley of Cleveland enters the lottery for one of 40 NCAA tickets the university is making available for sale to students. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

But that excitement gave way to frustration as they learned that the university had only 40 tickets available for sale through a lottery. On a campus with more than 26,000 students, Supply got slam-dunked by Demand.

Pitt officials said that each of the eight teams in the bracket hosted by Duquesne University are allotted 450 tickets, and with Pitt selling 250 of the $50 tickets to season-ticket holders and donors and distributing 160 to coaches, players and university staff connected to the basketball program, that left only 40 to sell to students.

E.J. Borghetti, Pitt assistant athletic director for media relations, said the university actually is providing students with twice as many tickets as some schools that are perennial powerhouses in the tournament. In fact, he said, Michigan State didn't allot one student ticket the year after its national championship.

And, he noted, it's gratifying to see the excitement over the basketball team.

"The students really have been the sixth man this year," he said.

Last night, however, school officials announced a plan that may ease the demand.

Borghetti said that the Pitt Program Council will install a 15-foot-by-20-foot TV screen in Fitzgerald Field House, where students can watch Friday's game free of charge. If Pitt wins and plays again on Sunday, that game will be televised at Fitzgerald, too.

The other 13,500 available tickets for the opening rounds at Mellon Arena sold out last year in April to fans who applied for them. In fact, requests exceeded available tickets by 2,000, said Brian Colleary, Duquesne athletic director.

Of course, no one dreamed in April that Pitt would be 27-5 and ranked seventh in The Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN polls, or that the Panthers would be one of the teams playing at Mellon Arena.

Yesterday, students began concocting plans to scrounge a ticket. Some indicated scalping was an option. Others made phone calls to other schools in the bracket, such as California and UCLA, in hopes of snagging unused tickets from them. And others, hoping against hope, filled out a lottery chance in the William Pitt Student Union.

"I think it's pretty crappy," said Rebecca Pasquale, 19, a freshman from Ellwood City, as she stood near the ticket office, filling out a lottery form. She was unaware there was a lottery until she tried to buy a ticket for the game.

"I really wanted to go to the game, but I'm sure there will be a party somewhere to watch it," she said.

"I don't like it," said Aaron Will of Bedford after depositing his lottery ticket. "Students would make the atmosphere there, but I realize it's a business."

Will, a senior pharmacy student, said that at least one of his professors agreed to move his Friday class to Wednesday so students could watch the 12:25 p.m. game on television.

Sophomore Brian Goldman will be attending the game, doing play-by-play for student radio station WPTS but said many of his friends plan to go to the arena hoping to buy tickets from scalpers. He said the excitement level is unbelievable, much more so than it was for the football team.

"We're in a tournament where we have a chance -- whether it's good or not -- to win a national championship," he said.

Kenneth Paul likewise will be at the game because he's sports editor of The Pitt News, but that's not to say he doesn't feel for his fellow students.

The dearth of tickets aside, Paul was even more frustrated by the university not capitalizing on what could be a galvanizing event for student morale. Indeed, in a Feb. 19 column, long before Pitt learned it would be playing at Mellon Arena, he called upon Chancellor Mark Nordenberg to cancel classes when Pitt played its weekday game in the first round so students could watch the game.

That was a tongue-in-cheek request, but later in the column he suggested that the game be televised at the field house.

"This is a chance to give students a real college experience to remember for the rest of their lives," he wrote.

The only notable indication yesterday that Pitt was in the prestigious tournament was a banner on a table near the ticket office where the lottery was being run. A handmade sign urged students to sign the banner that will be given to the team.

More than 100 students signed, but it was far from a high-profile staging of student spirit for the winningest basketball team in Pitt history.

"There's so much they can do to build pride. Even though this is an urban campus, students really love to get together and show Pitt pride but haven't been given the medium to do so," Paul said.

Shannon McLaughlin, Pitt News editor-in-chief, noted that when the NCAA announced the tournament pairings Sunday, some schools had packed field houses solely to watch where their teams would play.

"It's sad to see other schools making such an effort. Our basketball team hasn't had such success for so long it's like [the university] doesn't know what to do. There is so much student excitement," she said.

Sophomore Matt Cohen was so pumped yesterday he vowed that he and his friends would get into Mellon Arena one way or another.

That made sense, given the fact that Cohen and friend Zach Hale founded the "Oakland Zoo" last year, a grassroots group of rabble-rousing Pitt basketball fans who wear shirts identifying themselves as such and are so animating in their cheering and jeering that they resemble, well, a zoo.

Yesterday, they worked the phones all morning, calling California, UCLA, Boston University, Central Connecticut State and other schools in Pitt's bracket, trying to snag tickets. They didn't succeed but will keep trying, he vowed.

"This is the most exciting week in sports," Cohen said. "It's awesome. The fact that it's a five-minute bus ride away has us thinking we'll be going to the other teams' hotels to rag on them, to get in their heads a little bit.

"And, also," he added, "to see if they have any extra tickets."

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