The University of Maryland has been cited by the state fire marshal for admitting more spectators to Cole Field House for its Jan. 22 basketball game against North Carolina than the 14,500-seat facility is designed to hold.
State fire marshal James Robinson said yesterday he referred the matter to H. Edgar Lentz, assistant Maryland attorney general for public safety and correctional services. Lentz predicted that the matter would be resolved without prosecution.
Jim Kehoe, university athletic director, acknowledged yesterday that Maryland sells tickets to the public each game anticipating that not all students who are allotted tickets will attend. The students allotment, Kehoe said, is 7,500 per game. The public ticket sale boosts Maryland basketball revenues $100,000-$150,000 per season Kehoe said.
Maryland basketball games are technically sold out prior to the season, because 7,000 tickets are purchased by season-ticket holders. The students, who pay a $35 per semester athletic fee, may claim tickets until noon of game day. This does not allow time to advertise unclaimed seats, Kehoe said. Kehoe said some students pick up tickets, but do not attend the games.
Maryland plays 17 regular-season games at home this season, plus hosting its tournament for which students are permitted to buy half-price tickets. The average home attendance for the first 14 regular-season games was 12,956, according to the athletic department. That is 1,594 underr capacity per game.
Jack Zane, an athletic department spokesman, said the attendance figures listed are actual attendance, not tickets sold and claimed by the students.
A source in the athletic department said at least 1,000 tickets are put on sale to the public before each game as general admission tickets at $5.50 each. Kehoe denied this, saying the actual number was determined by several factors; weather, whether Maryland is winning or losing, and whether school is in session.
Kehoe said he has followed such a policy since becoming athletic director in 1970. He denied there was a safety problem at the North Carolina game and said his estimate of the number of students who would attend games has been wrong only three times - at a Clemson game in 1975, the North Carolina game last season and the Tar Heel game this year.
Robinson said that his office issued a "cease and desist" order to the university following the 1976 North Carolina game. Robinson said he was told that 2,000 spectators above capacity attended the 1975 Clemson game. He could not act at that time, he said, because neither he nor a member of his staff observed the game.
Robinson said he personally observed the field house at both North Carolina games. He said he was alerted to what he called overcrowding by anonymous telephone calls each time.
Robinson said his report alleges that the field house was 600 above capacity for the Jan. 22 game. A university source said attendance at the game was 16,000 - 1,500 above capacity.
"Exiting in the building is designed to handle the capacity as posted," Robinson said. "The building is posted for 14,500. Exiting is adequate for that many people, period.Any excess over that in the event of an emergency would create a bad problem."
Under state law, the university chancellor, as its chief executive, can be fined up to $100 and jailed up to 10 days if prosecuted and convicted. Robinson also said the fire marshal's office could get an injunction to stop events in the field house if the university did not comply.
"In no instance do we make a decision that we feel will create a crowd problem," said Kehoe. "It's the first game North Carolina we've had a capacity crowd this year. I don't view it as selling extra tickets. The problem we've had is with the students. We have an allocation for the students and we've not had a good student turnout this season.
"It's a serious problem because it takes us three days lead time to get an ad in The Washington Post. We've got to make decisions . . .several days in advance."
Kehoe said he could have done better financially this season, "if I had gambled more on it. I know the fire marshall is here every game. I don't want to get in trouble. We're losing a bunch of money because we're making an effort to protect the students,"
According to Robinson, Maryland did not state the extra tickets as the reason for overcrowding at the 1976 North Carolina game. Robinson said that chancellor Robert Gluckstern's reply to the cease-and-decist order said that Kehoe advised him that many people were hiding in the building prior to the game and that in the future the field house would be "swpet," prior to the game.