Greg Demery proudly wore his team's colors - Carolina blue coat, T-shirt and hat - when he headed to Charlottesville, Va., Saturday to watch UNC-Chapel Hill take on the University of Virginia in basketball.
But his attire didn't suit Virginia athletic officials, who removed him from his ticketed seat behind the Cavalier team.
Demery had a question for Triangle Troubleshooter: Can the home team legally do this?
As an Arlington, Va., resident, Demery, 46, doesn't get to see his Tar Heels play live all that often. He'd bought two tickets for Saturday's game at Charlottesville's John Paul Jones Arena. When his wife decided not to join him, Demery sold his two tickets to a scalper outside the arena, then paid $100 to the scalper for a single seat. (In C-ville, scalping is legal.)
The seat turned out to be two rows behind the Virginia bench.
"It was unreal," Demery said, calling it the best seat he'd ever had in his life.
But he didn't have time to remove his light blue coat before a man asked to see his ticket. The man told him he had on the wrong colors.
"At first, I thought he was joking and just giving me a hard time," Demery said.
That man left, but soon another came and asked Demery for his ticket. "He looks at my ticket and is astounded I'm sitting in this section," Demery said.
Then Jason Bauman, an associate athletics director, approached Demery and asked how he got his ticket, Demery said. Bauman told Demery that Virginia doesn't let opposing fans sit in those seats.
Bauman took Demery to guest services and found him another seat 19 rows up from his previous one - all because of his outfit. Demery fumed, but he didn't want to get kicked out of the game.
At halftime, Demery went back to guest services to see whether he could get back to his original seat. Bauman met him again and turned him down.
"I swallowed my pride," Demery said. He watched from his higher perch as the Heels came from behind in the second half to beat the Cavs.
Free ticket sold
Before I disclose the results of what I discovered, it's time for my usual Troubleshooter sports team disclosure: I did not attend school in North Carolina, nor am I related by marriage or by blood to anyone who did. I do not follow local college sports and could not name players on either team if my life depended on it.
Oh, and that non-North Carolina college I attended? Yep, it was Virginia.
I first called Bauman, who said the ticket that Demery purchased was in the athletic department staff section.
"We don't allow people in those seats to be dressed in the opposing team's apparel," Bauman said. "Because he was in that section, we moved him."
Athletic department staff members get free tickets for games, Bauman said. Since the incident, he has tracked down the staff member who received that particular ticket. The staffer had given four tickets to a friend, who sold this one to a scalper.
"We're dealing with that internally," he said.
Schools' policies vary
Staff members are allowed to give away tickets they are not using, Bauman added, but "they know they are responsible for the people who sit there."
Asked why Demery was moved so far away, Bauman said the game was sold out, and he didn't have any other option. He said they never discussed Demery putting on another shirt.
Bauman said he handled the situation fairly.
"It wasn't like I asked him to leave," Bauman said. "I gave him a seat in the lower bowl, which is a very good seat."
Atlantic Coast Conference schools have their own ticket policies, and the league doesn't have any influence over them, said Brian Morrison, director of basketball and media relations for the ACC.
I called the Triangle's three ACC schools - UNC, N.C. State and Duke - to see what officials would have done in their home arenas.
"We don't have that policy in place," said Annabelle Myers, NCSU sports spokeswoman, adding that she has never heard of anyone being moved for wearing opponents' colors at NCSU.
Art Chase, a spokesman for Duke sports, said the seats behind the Blue Devil bench belong to the men's basketball program, so it's unlikely an opposing fan would be there. But, yes, game officials would reseat someone wearing the other team's colors if that happened.
UNC players' families and friends get the seats behind the Tar Heel team's bench, said Steve Kirschner, the athletic department spokesman.
What if a player invited a friend who wore UVA blue and orange? I asked.
"Coach [Roy] Williams would make it clear to the player that the tickets should be used by Carolina fans, but I don't believe the person would be removed," Kirschner said.
But there was that issue in December 2009, when Presbyterian fan Brian King was asked to leave the Smith Center after he yelled for a UNC player to miss a free throw.
"Coach Williams asked security to go find out if the guy was supposed to be sitting there, because where the guy was sitting is very close ... from where Coach Williams' seats are,'' Kirschner said then. "When he has seats that he gives himself, personally, or from the basketball office, he wants to make sure those are Carolina people sitting in those seats."
As far as Demery is concerned, he thinks the Cavaliers did him wrong.
"Come on, Virginia, will you get off of it?" he said. "It's discriminating against fans."