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Original Issue

Scalp Treatment

Face it, Final Four tickets can't be had without a shakedown

Who's the dude over there talking out of the side of his mouth? The guy whispering "Psst. Final Four tickets. Three for seven grand."

Must be a hustler.

Must have a nice scam going....


Yessir, if you made it to this year's NCAA basketball Final Four and found yourself wandering outside Charlotte Coliseum looking for some tickets to this most frenzied and selective of sporting events, you might have seen a few of those character builders—college basketball coaches—furtively hawking their ducats for some serious walking-around money.

At least one coach got pinched by the cops for scalping at the 1994 finals, and there probably were a number of others who tried it and didn't get snagged. The unlucky fellow's name is Win Case, and he is the coach at Oklahoma City University. Apparently he's a pretty good coach too, because he led his Chiefs to a 28-7 record and the NAIA Division I championship this season. His scalping skills are suspect, however. It's not that he reportedly tried to get a nifty $7,000 for three full-session tickets worth just $65 apiece. Scalped tickets were said to be going for as much as $5,000 apiece; a confiscated scalper's seating chart of the arena showed one prime location with seats priced at $7,500 each. No, Case's error was in trying to sell the tickets to an undercover cop.

After being arrested for the scalping offense, a misdemeanor charge that was later dropped, Case noted that he had learned "a hard lesson." Probably it was this: I should have just watched the games with two pals and spent more time trying to get a sneaker deal like Coach K's. In truth, tickets to the Final Four have become so valuable that it's really not fair to put them in the hands of guys like Case, a coach who has a small-potatoes TV show, a minuscule shoe deal and an annual salary estimated to be half that of his NCAA Division I counterparts.

"To some of those guys the temptation to scalp is huge," says Andrew Geerken, the director of communications for the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), the organization that doles out 3,000 tickets to member coaches. When they pick up their tickets, coaches have to present their I.D. cards and sign a form vowing that they will not sell the tickets. Still, greed eats at the souls of some, and the point of Final Four scalping has been made clear: The tickets have become a sort of springtime currency. So much so that after the NABC picked up its allotment of tickets from the NCAA, it was so nervous that it hired a policeman to sleep with the precious objects until they could be distributed.

Yet considering the means by which about three quarters of the Final Four tickets are brokered, what did Case do that was so bad? In fact something akin to extortion is used in the sale of most of the seats.

Saying that basketball fans really want Final Four tickets is like saying fish really want water. For this year's tournament at the 22,876-seat Charlotte Coliseum, all of 2,014 tickets were available to the general public through the NCAA's mail-in lottery—which attracted more than 533,000 entries.

One would think a college sports tournament would be heavily attended by college students cheering for their schoolmates. One would be wrong. Each school in this year's Final Four received 3,000 tickets to distribute as it saw fit, and each gave only a few hundred to its students. Eventual national champion Arkansas, for instance, put a whopping 300 tickets in the hands of its students.

Arkansas used more than 100 tickets for its "official party," including the president of the university system, the chancellor of the Fayetteville campus, the governor of the state and lots of other big shots. (Bill "Sooey" Clinton is clean on this one; he got his ducat from the NCAA.) Thirty scats went to the school's band, 60 to the players and all the rest—some 2,500 tickets, 84% of the total—were given to boosters. Not just any boosters, though. You had to be a season-ticket holder, and you had to have made some sizable donations to the athletic department. The lowest lifetime amount contributed to the Hogs' trough by a donor who received Final Four tickets was $17,000. Arkansas officials estimate that the minimum next year will be $22,000.

The other Final Four schools—Arizona, Duke and Florida—used similar criteria for dishing out tickets to boosters, including a point system for years of boostership and size of contributions. Season tickets and contributions of $10,000 lifetime to the athletic department would have pretty much put you on the bubble, Final Four ticketwise, at all of the schools. Far better to simply give a bundle, say $100,000, and walk into the athletic department and demand your due. At Florida, for instance, athletic department officials would guarantee you tickets if you bought some of the more expensive basketball season tickets and also were a member of the Bull Gators football club, whipping out at least $10,000 a year for the good ol' gridders.

Scalping? Makes you wonder, doesn't it? When you get right down to it, just about everybody who makes it into the stands at the Final Four has been scalped.