GMU's Newfound Celebrity Has Fans Fighting for Tickets

Sales Manager Brian Banks, working in the ticket office at George Mason, spent most of the day on the phone answering question from fans on how to get tickets to the NCAA regional semifinals at Verizon Center. (Preston Keres - The Washington Post)
Sales Manager Brian Banks, working in the ticket office at George Mason, spent most of the day on the phone answering question from fans on how to get tickets to the NCAA regional semifinals at Verizon Center. (Preston Keres - The Washington Post)

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By Carol Morello and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The fax machine at George Mason University's athletic ticket department had a one-hour backlog yesterday. The athletic director's voice-mail box filled with dozens of messages faster than he could empty it. His e-mail was clogged with several hundred messages.

Overnight, a school that normally cannot fill the seats for home basketball games was in possession of 1,200 of the hottest tickets in town. On Friday, the Patriots will play Wichita State University's Shockers in the NCAA regional semifinals at Verizon Center.

Being the belle of the ball is a new role for the men's basketball program at the school. The team averages 4,500 spectators a game at the 10,000-seat Patriot Center in Fairfax.

But now, not even family members can expect a break prying tickets from Andrew Ruge, the school's associate director for marketing. "My mom, maybe," he said with a tone suggesting even she might have trouble talking him into it. "Someone offered me my favorite beer. But I'm trying to be neutral."

With ticket prices from scalpers running more than $1,000, schools that get allotments of $130 tickets for a two-game package are wrestling to find fair formulas to dole them out.

George Mason has set aside 400 tickets for students, who will have to line up tomorrow to buy them. About 100 are set aside for the family and friends of the four coaches and 14 players. That leaves fewer than 700 tickets for everyone else. And they are being rationed as meagerly as gasoline coupons in wartime.

The school has established a priority point system in a complex formula that measures how many years fans have held season tickets and how long they have donated money to the athletic scholarship fund. Donors at the Gold Patriot level, who have given $3,000, can get four tickets. Everyone else is limited to two.

"It's loyalty as well as financial support," said J.L. "Buzzy" Correll III, head of the 600-member Patriot Club, who has a ticket. "We're in uncharted territory. A lot of this is new to us, as well as the donors who have been calling all day."

The fact that one of the regional tournaments is being held in the school's back yard has fueled demand. At the first- and second-round games held over the weekend in Dayton, Ohio, George Mason sold only 460 of the 550 tickets it was allotted.

Georgetown University also is setting aside its ticket allotment for its most loyal fans and donors, said spokeswoman Kim Frank. She added that many Hoyas fans in the area have purchased tickets for the games at Verizon Center, she added, instead of buying an expensive, last-minute airline ticket to Minneapolis, where the Hoyas will play Florida on Friday.

George Mason expects to have decided by late tomorrow who gets tickets, after administrators have sorted through the pile of requests dripping with cajolery.

Applications started rolling over the fax machine 5 p.m. Sunday, right after George Mason's upset win over North Carolina. The application was printed on the school's Web site, along with a deadline of 5 p.m. yesterday. When Ruge checked his e-mail about 3 p.m., he had 200 messages.


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