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Most ACC Tickets: Booster Seats

"Some people called as soon as we sent out the letters and said, 'What'll it take?' " said John Cherry, associate executive director of North Carolina's Rams Club. "On the other hand, it's hard to measure whether people got discouraged."

In the meantime, ACC officials made nearly a dozen trips to Washington to scour every unused square inch of floor space at MCI Center, looking for places to shoehorn more seats. "They have very huge portals by the tunnels," ACC tournament director Fred Barakat said. "We put seats there, in the corners of the floor, in any opening where there were no seats. We went around and created a lot of seats."

Signs point to many Maryland fans being left out of MCI Center during the ACC tournament. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)

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When the final math was done, Barakat delivered the bad news: The nine schools in the ACC last season would each get 1,941 tickets. As new members, Miami and Virginia Tech would get a one-third share (647 tickets each), with the promise of a two-thirds share in 2006 and full share in 2007.

At Virginia Tech, that meant the Hokies' top 200 donors -- those who had given about $100,000 to the athletic program over a lifetime -- were guaranteed tickets. As orders were filled, Hokie Club officials were able to move down their donor list, offering tickets to members who had given in the $50,000 to $75,000 range.

For basketball fans who don't enjoy elite status in an ACC booster group, the search for tournament tickets has led to sticker shock. Brokers are charging as much as $4,500 for a four-day ticket book in the arena's lower deck. A bad seat in the corner of the upper deck goes for as much as $795.

That doesn't mean brokers are getting rich, says Danny Matta, owner of College Park-based GreatSeats.com. Matta buys his ACC tickets (which have a face value of $325) at a hefty premium from boosters who can't use them.

"I'm paying double value just to get anything in the building," Matta says. "For stuff in the lower level, I'm paying five times face value."

Matta thinks the tickets are worth the price, particularly if you spread the cost over 10 games in four days. A Bowie native, he lives and breathes Maryland basketball. And he's emblematic of just why the 2005 ACC tournament has such cachet: The passion of the fans, the proximity of the participating schools, and the fact that regardless of a fan's college ties, the tournament delivers great basketball, with three of the nation's top six teams competing (North Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke).

All of that has made it one of the tougher tickets in memory -- tougher than a Redskins-Cowboys game, tougher than the 2001 NBA All-Star Game, tougher than the Capitals' 1998 Stanley Cup run -- according to the lobbyists who trade in access. With tickets scarce, they're scouring their Palm Pilots for distant relatives of ACC officials, NCAA staffers and MCI Center personnel, while searching for new ways of saying, "Sorry, I can't help you."

Said Nike's Figel, "I know after working the system, it's a short list with a long line."

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