By Kyle Roth
Special To the College Sports Journal
FARGO, N.D. — Within a few hours of Sam Houston State’s ticket-punching victory over Montana, Bearkat fans’ mandated allotment of 4,000 tickets to the game in Frisco, TX, were gone.
Barely a day after the Bison dominated Georgia Southern 35-7 and sealed a chance to play for the 2011 National Championship, that same size allotment of tickets was spoken for.
With nearly 8,000 tickets reserved, that left just over 12,000 to be gobbled up by the opportunists, scattered fans of football, and those fans that weren’t lucky enough to get in on that primary list.
And as history as shown when there is a great demand for a coveted resource, the bloodbath began.
Ticket costs on online brokers like eBay and craigslist.com have skyrocketed, with individual tickets going from four- to ten-times their face value.
Bison fans are left to wonder not only if they will get a ticket, but how the financial blitzkrieg against fans of the Football Championship Subdivision championship teams will affect what is sure to be an action-packed game, one that leaves NDSU with a chance at its first title in 21 years.
First, a spot of history: the championship game recently was switched from its longtime venue at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, TN, where the game had been held since 1997.
With a bidding process similar to that of the Summit League mens’ basketball championship tournament, the right to host was awarded last year to Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, TX.
Pizza Hut Park, with its capacity size of 21,193, hasn’t had that maximum challenged in its short history as a host venue. Considering the teams that played last year, that shouldn’t be surprising.
Eastern Washington and Delaware lie about as far from northern Texas as a location could get, and when EWU announced an attendance of just 4,060 at its final game against Villanova, that fanbase can’t expect to travel terribly well.
Thus, the attendance last year in the championship game of just over 13,000 probably didn’t surprise the NCAA too much, and likely played right into their expectations of fan support at the FCS level — in keeping with those of the greater sports world.
All parties involved now find themselves in the awkward situation of there being an incredible demand for championship game tickets and not nearly enough supply to quell it.
Sam Houston State, located just 250 miles from Frisco, has a stadium capacity of slightly over 14,000 (but has had crowds of 16,000 announced); the Fargodome has averaged 18,143 per the nine games its hosted this season.
With a cumulative average of over 32,000 at each home venue, and with the added value of a championship game to those fans that wouldn’t make a routine game it’s only reasonable that more fans than half from each fanbase would travel for this game regardless of location — plus, with both schools being west of the Mississippi, and thus not geographically isolated from the championship venue, the shortfall now seems almost ludicrous.
Shouldn’t someone have seen this coming?
Or maybe NDSU, and the rest of the FCS programs, have something in common with Rodney Dangerfield and his classic platform.
“I don’t get no respect.”
A variety of entities now find themselves in unenviable positions; the athletic departments of each school will need to make decisions as to which fans get tickets, and at least in NDSU’s case, with over 9,000 season ticket holders, trying to distribute 4,000 tickets fairly is going to grind some chains.
Ticket brokers will likely drop prices as the event nears, but with demand driving ticket prices sky-high, irate fans will turn their ire to the sellers of $400 ticket deals.
Ultimately, shouldn’t the blame fall to the NCAA for relegating the Division-I championship game to a venue not nearly adequately sized to hold it?
Make no mistake; Pizza Hut Park is a beautiful venue in a very favorable geographic location right in the arms of Dallas-Fort Worth, making it a tantalizing attraction for the third-largest media market in the country.
The exposure of the FCS to something that size, and with the added factor of being on ESPN, certainly doesn’t harm the promotion of the hidden oasis of college football that is the Championship Subdivision.
All that aside, wouldn’t it behoove the NCAA to allow its member schools to promote themselves to the utmost?
And wouldn’t a 50% larger venue allow a capital-drinking venue like the NCAA to make the most bang for its buck at little cost to itself?
It’s a disappointing situation, but fans need to see the opportunity within.
A jam-packed crowd looks great on national TV, and when sponsors see that, the riches will come to a world of football that is regarded as second-class to the governing body of the NCAA.
While the growing pains hurt now, it falls to Bison fans to show the rest of the nation how a national championship game is really done.