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Policy shift leaves students frustrated over Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament tickets

By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 14, 2013

The senior who has missed two home basketball games in four years didn’t receive an offer for a student ticket to the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament from the Michigan Athletic Deparment. Other students waited for an e-mail notification that never came. One house of basketball fans hoping to go to Chicago was led in circles by the Michigan Ticket Office.

As the Big Ten Tournament approaches this year, Michigan students face two novelties: the fourth-ranked Wolverines are considered an early favorite, and many fans don’t know how they’ll get in the building for the potential coronation.

In a policy shift, the Michigan Athletic Department this season distributed student tickets to the tournament based on loyalty to the program, measured by game attendance and usage of the department’s H.A.I.L. mobile application. The department, which has already distributed its allotment, will still pay for many of those tickets, as it has in the past.

Though most students had little issue with the policy itself, many felt misinformed or misled by the department. Many never received word about the policy shift.

Others took issue with the policy’s enforcement, particularly with the use of H.A.I.L., which some fans argued was an ineffective gauge of loyalty.

“I think it’s a really good policy, and I’m personally in favor,” said Jason Okrasinski, a Business senior. “I just assumed that they would, at some point, e-mail us or at least just say they’re going on sale, or at least the process, how it’s going to go.”

All parties agreed that the policy was unclear until the middle of the season. Typically, the Athletic Department has paid for the school’s allotment of student tickets and given them to the Maize Rage, Michigan’s student fan section, to distribute as it sees fit.

With demand surging and supply still limited, according to Associate Athletic Director Dave Ablauf, the Athletic Department’s marketing office decided to alter that policy in the middle of this season.

“We’re now taking over the administration and distribution of the ticket in that we’re rewarding the students who have the greatest loyalty to the program during the season — that’s the difference,” Ablauf said. “We wanted to have at least the oversight of it to know that we were giving it to the students that showed the most loyalty to the program throughout the year.”

Ablauf said the change was soon communicated to the Maize Rage and that a portion of the tickets still went to the organization. Sasha Shaffer, vice president of the Maize Rage, called the policy “different” but added: “We’re not mad about it.”

Many students not active in the organization remained in the dark. The problem was exacerbated by an apparent disconnect between the marketing department and the Michigan Ticket Office.

One student who contacted the email address for the Ticket Office on Jan. 29, for example, received the following reply from an unnamed responder: “I have been told that the Marketing Team will send an e-mail in the next week or two to students that ordered student season tickets. When you read the e-mail, make sure you understand the guidelines. The e-mail will explain everything in detail.”

The e-mail never came, though, leaving those fans waiting in vain.

Those who independently sought out a ticket paid for their preemptive purchase. Eric Hutchinson, the Engineering senior who has missed two home games overall and just one game this season, bought student tickets in advance through the Big Ten website. Though he potentially could have been eligible for the free ticket offer based on attendance, he said his purchase disqualified him. He said he ultimately paid about $65, including fees, for the student ticket.

The students who bought tickets early “kind of got screwed over by that too, showing their dedication and buying a ticket,” said Hutchinson, who is a member of the Maize Rage core. “The Athletic Department did not want to help them out there because they had already bought a ticket.”

Members of the Maize Rage and others who did not buy in advance, and who were not offered free tickets, were left scrambling. With less than 100 tickets initially available, and less after the free tickets were distributed, only the very early responders found student tickets.

One member of the Maize Rage, who wished to remain anonymous, said that once word spread, “It was kind of a rush.”

He added: “I imagine some people didn’t get it if they weren’t fast enough, but that’s, obviously, I guess an advantage to having been at that one meeting.”

Another portion of the student section attended games but rarely checked in with the H.A.I.L. application.

“I guess I just go to the games and my phone’s in my pocket,” said Ari Kurzmann, a LSA senior. “Watching the game I might take a picture or two, but I’m not really trying to check out any apps. … I just wish I would’ve known at the beginning of the season that (a Big Ten Tournament ticket) was on the line because I probably would’ve just gone to those games and checked in.”

Added Hutchinson: “I like the thought to try to get more people down there, but they gave the free tickets to people who had checked into H.A.I.L. every time, not the people who show up early, get the front row, organize the cheers and all that kind of stuff. The people who really show dedication to the school were not rewarded for it.”

Some students, like Sam Gross, the LSA senior who had looked for tickets along with his housemates, still said he would consider attending the tournament, which will be held at the United Center in Chicago.

As of Wednesday night, MGoBlue.com contained a message saying that all tickets to the Big Ten Tournament had sold out, with a link to StubHub.com, an online ticket marketplace. There, a pass for all six sessions for the tournament started at $397, plus fees, for a ticket in the upper corner of the United Center.