Though many freshmen express sadness over not winning the lottery for football, most agree that it is a fair system.
Not so for Tech’s men’s basketball team.
The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team has experienced a successful season last winter, especially at home, where the Hokies ended the season at 17-2 at home and 25-9 overall. Some of their most loyal fans, however, were not able to witness the Hokies’ victories in Cassell Coliseum.
Since last year, the SGA has made efforts to hear and deal with complaints about the way students get tickets to basketball games.
Brandon Carroll, 2009-10 SGA president; Eric Rucinski, an SGA representative to the athletics committee; and Abby Boggs, 2009-10 Hokies on Fire president, have been working to make the home basketball games more accessible.
Talking with students, collecting data, examining practices employed by other schools and running test programs through Hokies on Fire are just some of the ways the SGA is trying to come to a conclusion.
Athletics, however, hasn’t seen the need to change the current ticketing system because of the issue of fairness to all students. SGA has proposed Tech look to ACC peers for ideas.
Currently, Tech students can only get tickets via the online lottery, which is entirely random. Students can first enter a lottery for season tickets, which costs $78 if the students win the right to buy them. If they do not win those, they can then apply for a random lottery on a game-by-game basis.
Students go online during a two-day window to apply for certain games. They sign in using their PID and indicate which games they want to attend. If selected to win, students receive an e-mail telling them to pick up their ticket from the ticket window at Cassell Coliseum.
If not selected to win, students are entered into a second round lottery after the unclaimed number of tickets is determined. After the second round lottery, the remaining tickets are given away on a first-come, first-serve basis.
If students are not selected for the lottery and do not receive the third-round, first-come first-serve tickets, they are e-mailed stand-by passes that could admit them to empty seats in the student section once the game starts.
Students with stand-by passes wait outside until after tip-off. If there are empty seats in the student section, students are placed in those seats.
Assistant athletics director for ticketing services Sandy Smith said the current random lottery system is the most effective since it is the fairest way to distribute tickets to students.
“A lottery is the only way you can be fair to all students,” Smith said. “We’re giving out every ticket we can.”
Carroll favors some type of weighted lottery based on seniority or loyalty, as opposed to the current system.
“Seniors who are really big basketball fans have the same chance of getting season tickets,” he said. “A way to reward loyalty or seniority would be good.”
Rucinski said he is in favor of some type of hybrid system that would combine both seniority and loyalty factors.
“Seniors should get first dibs on leftover season tickets that didn’t get bought,” Rucinski said.
Boggs said it would be hard to differentiate loyalty and seniority, but admitted that the current system is frustrating to students.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than complaining and nothing being done,” she said.
Brent DiGiacomo, director of sports marketing and promotions for Tech athletics, said the SGA came up with the current lottery system years ago and that it was in place when he was a student at Tech in 2000.
However, he said, the student body has grown since then, and the Tech men’s basketball program has also become more nationally recognized.
Demand for student tickets has risen significantly as a result.
“It’s a great problem to have,” DiGiacomo said.
Smith said the SGA and the athletics department switched to the current random lottery system because the previous system was not working.
Students waited in line outside of the ticket offices for hours or often days on end, camping outside in a style similar to the notable “K-ville” tradition at Duke University.
Associate ticket manager Stephen Medley, who attended Tech, said he camped out for tickets when he was a student in 1991. He recalled standing in line in the cold for eight hours to try to get a ticket for one game, then being told all the tickets were gone.
“A lot of people had been there for days,” he said. “Then I said, ‘Well, why did I do that?’”
Smith said the current system is far more convenient for students because they can enter the lottery online and have their tickets e-mailed to them.
Other options that many schools use are weighted lotteries, some based on loyalty and others on seniority.
Currently, admittance to all Tech sports other than football and basketball is free. If a loyalty system were adopted, the athletics department would need to track attendance at all home events.
Smith said a loyalty system would be hard to introduce because of the costs that would be associated with installing wireless student ID scanners at sporting venues other than Lane Stadium and Cassell Coliseum.
“It’s not a great time to be spending money,” Smith said.
DiGiacomo said it would be easier to switch to a seniority-based system because of the costs associated with software that would have to be installed to handle a loyalty-based system.
“I think if any move was made, it’s the easiest one to do,” DiGiacomo said.
Smith said it would also be difficult to switch to a seniority system because it is hard to classify students.
Medley said they had asked the bursar’s office for demographic information on students signing up for tickets, not to use for seniority purposes but to track students applying for tickets.
“You’d think there are four classifications,” he said. “But there were 45 between freshmen and Ph.D. students.”
Smith said it is often unclear which “level” of students should take priority.
“Classification becomes a nightmare,” Smith said. “What would you do with a graduate student, or a fifth year senior?”
Carroll said he hopes to find solid data to present to the athletics department so changes can be made in the seating system, and, eventually, to the actual student section within Cassell Coliseum.
Carroll said he would like for the student section to be fuller and possibly larger.
“I really think if we would have had more student seating, or filled to capacity at all the games, which there is demand for, we would have been in the tournament last year,” Carroll said.
Boggs also said she thought it “might be beneficial” if the student section were rearranged or enlarged in Cassell.
“It would be beneficial if we had opposing student sections with the (Cassell Guard) generals who can help to lead a banter between them,” she said. “A lot of students have had interest in moving the student section or having a new section behind the rim.”
However, DiGiacomo said it would be difficult to expand the student section because Cassell Coliseum, which has a maximum capacity of 10,052, already allots 30 percent of seating for students.
“The building’s not getting any larger, but the student population is getting larger,” DiGiacomo said. “We don’t have the facility to let 26,000 people in.”
Smith said there is “no way” every student can come to every game. Furthermore, seats have been left empty in the student section at each game this season.
DiGiacomo said although many neighboring ACC schools allow students to sit at center
court or behind both baskets, Cassell Coliseum is not configured to harbor that kind of distribution, mainly because of students’ desire to stand during the games.
“At UVa and NC State, they have lower seating,” DiGiacomo said, which allows students to stand and not block the views of others seated higher up.
Smith said many alumni who donate large amounts of money to the program wish to sit during the game, and don’t want their view blocked by students standing in areas of the area other than the student section. Cassell Coliseum was not built to allow for students to stand in lower areas of the arena and not block the view of those sitting higher up.
“We can’t change the building,” Medley said.
Boggs, sister of freshman guard Ben Boggs, said that based on her experiences as a high school basketball player as well as conversations with the men’s and women’s teams at Tech, student attendance at games is crucial.
“More students really make the game,” she said. “(Men’s basketball head coach Seth) Greenberg is a proponent of packing the stadium with students. Alumni are great and they support the program, but students are the key.”
DiGiacomo said many students are not utilizing the stand-by pass system as effectively as he would like.
“If we see 30 or 50 empty seats, we let students in,” he said. “(Stand-by seating) is in place and it’s been in place.”
Smith said stand-by seating works for students who truly want to attend games.
“If they were a true, avid fan, they would use it,” he said. “We’ve let people in at every game.”
Smith said nearly every two or four years, there is a push from the student body to change the current system. However, he said, he has heard nearly every proposal because of the amount of time that he has worked in athletics.
Smith feels that although no solution is every perfect for every student, the current lottery works well for the majority.
“We treat our students as good as we treat our highest donors,” he said.
He also said many other schools in the ACC look to Tech as an example of a lottery system that generally works.
Smith said that the SGA has not recently contacted the athletics department to discuss possibly changing the current system.
Carroll, however, said he is trying to work toward a better solution.
“The entire student body should work on ways to work with the SGA to figure out an optimal solution,” Carroll said.
DiGiacomo said that although there is currently not a strong push within the athletics department to change the way students receive tickets through the lottery, there is always a possibility for change.
“They’re always willing to tweak it,” he said.