The North Carolina Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga in the NCAA championship game more than 2,000 miles from home. While some of their Carolina Blue-clad fans were able to make the trek to Phoenix, it was cost prohibitive for many – especially students.
So when the North Carolina student section looked a little washed out with white T-shirts flanking and crowding in behind the blue, some might have raised their eyebrows and wondered where those extra fans came from.
The NCAA offers about 700 student-section tickets to each university that makes it to the final rounds. But it turns out that when university teams play thousands of miles from home and plane tickets there and back cost a minimum of $1,200, plus $250 per hotel night stay, those tickets are a harder sell. The student tickets for the games themselves run a more affordable $40.
“I try to put myself in a college kid’s shoes and think ‘Where would I find the money?’” said David Worlock, NCAA director of media coordination and statistics. “I could probably have scrounged for $40 bucks but how am I getting across the country?”
Worlock said it’s normal for universities not to use all of their student-section tickets. It’s equally normal for the NCAA to offer those leftover spots to nearby universities, as it did with Arizona State University this year.
Students at nearby universities who are offered last-minute Final Four tickets are outfitted with appropriately colored shirts – white on Monday for UNC – and told to cheer for their section’s team.
“When Butler made the Final Four in Indianapolis, they had no trouble selling all of those,” Worlock said. “But in cases where students have to travel a great distance, it’s not uncommon for us to go to the host institutions to offer those unused tickets.”
Worlock said the students who are offered last-minute tickets are outfitted with appropriately colored shirts – white on Monday for UNC – and told to cheer for their section’s team.
“This year presented a greater challenge for North Carolina and South Carolina students than if Arizona and UCLA made the Final Four,” he said.
And most of the students in the UNC student section at Saturday and Monday’s games were from UNC, Worlock said.
“I get the sense from sitting in on meetings about it that it was mostly Carolina students and then ASU students filled in the back rows, mostly,” he said. “We definitely give priority to students from the universities participating, so the actual UNC students got the closer-to-court spots.”
Worlock said he did not have exact figures for the number of UNC students who attended and the number of unused tickets that went to Arizona State University students.
When asked how many student tickets were available and how many went unused, UNC spokesman Steve Kirschner didn’t have the information and deferred to the NCAA.
Most years at least one school needs extra students to fill out its section, Worlock said. He added that it’s important to the NCAA to have college students ringing the court.
“We want that collegiate atmosphere at the Final Four,” he said. “It’s not like playing at a home arena, but we still try to keep it surrounded by students near the basket to give it that feel.”
Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett