A generous donor to the Virginia Athletics Foundation contributed $100,000 toward John Paul Jones Arena, writes a $12,500 annual check and has sweet, lower-level seats at home basketball games, about six rows up, foul line extended.
All VAF executive Dirk Katstra could offer him for next month’s ACC tournament was upper-deck seats in a corner of Greensboro Coliseum.
Welcome to Virginia’s supply-and-demand world in the expanded ACC during an historically successful Cavaliers season.
With the conference growing from 12 to 15 teams this season – Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame are the newcomers – Katstra and other league fundraisers knew their shares of tournament tickets would be trimmed. Add Virginia’s 14-1 ACC record – the Cavaliers are poised to win the regular season outright for only the second time, and the first since 1981 – and you have a recipe for donor disappointment.
“This year we weren’t able to help everybody who requested tickets,” Katstra said.
Contrast that to recent years, when Virginia emailed an ACC tournament offer to anyone, VAF member or not, who had purchased a ticket to any regular-season game.
Also frustrating to Cavaliers faithful: By rotation, Virginia’s seats for this year’s tournament are in the corners. Last year, the Cavaliers had what are considered the worst tickets, behind the baskets. They had premier middle seats in 2012, but that tournament was in Atlanta, a location that Katstra said many boosters elected to skip.
Katstra explained that with 15 schools, five receive the best seats, five get second tier in the corners and five get the worst behind the baskets.
“People are probably going to be irritated when they see Maryland” in the middle sections this year, he said.
Indeed, even though this is the Terps’ final ACC season before bolting to the Big Ten, league officials did not deny them the primo tournament tickets they were due by rotation. That may be the lone olive branch the ACC extended to Maryland, which is attempting to weasel out of the conference’s $50 million-plus exit fee.
I’d have assigned Maryland fans seats at Stamey’s Barbecue across the street from the Coliseum, but I guess that wasn’t as an option.
Katstra said schools can choose from among three allotments of tickets. Before knowing what an epic season Virginia would have – 14 ACC victories is a program record -- he chose the mid-range of about 1,400, approximately 400 shy of maximum.
“Everybody always thinks Carolina has the largest section,” he added.
And indeed, the Tar Heels usually do, with a sizable fan base that not only purchases tickets through the school but also scarfs them up on the secondary market.
The Greensboro Coliseum, the tournament’s most frequent home, complicates matters with a majority of its seats in the upper deck.
“We have people who give piles of money to get really good seats (at John Paul Jones Arena),” Katstra said, “and they go to the ACC tournament and they’re in the upper deck.”
A cozy, three-day event from 1954-91, the tournament grew to four days in ’92 with Florida State’s arrival. This year debuts a five-day format, which prompted league officials to break from the traditional ticket book that encompassed the entire tournament.
So Wednesday’s opening, three-game session will be a separate ticket costing $35. Ticket books for the 11 games Thursday-Sunday cost $396 for the lower bowl, $297 in the upper arena.
The tournament has long been frustrating for Virginia. The Cavaliers have won it only once, in 1976, and haven’t reached the semifinals since 1995, the longest such drought in conference history. Excluding the newcomers, every other ACC program has made the semifinals at least once since 2006.
Virginia is assured of a double bye into Friday’s quarterfinals, and Saturday’s semis could showcase the surging Cavaliers (11-game winning streak) and North Carolina (nine straight), plus Duke and Syracuse, the combatants in two regular-season epics.
Now there's a ticket worth some coin.
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