The diehard nature of Wolfpack Nation is one reason why reports of difficulties entering games are so hard to understand. For a squad in dire need of every ounce of support it can get, alumni and students expect a grateful administration that aims to make their game-day experience as enjoyable as possible. But for some fans, some recent situations have called into question how dedicated NC State is to this goal.
Ken Nelson, 36, has held lifetime rights to Pack games for the past three seasons, making the trek from Charlotte on game days to root on the Red and White. He's missed only two games in the past six years, but an incident during the State-Wofford game on September 15 shook his faith in those who preside over the stadium. According to Nelson, upon entering Gate 9 about 50 minutes prior to kickoff that day, he noticed that the men and women were being separated, with the men's line moving quicker.
"My biggest issue was the separation of men from women before getting to the gate," Nelson said. "There seemed to be no reason for it, and it caught everyone off guard."
Uneasy with leaving his pregnant wife behind as he entered the stadium, he attempted to question the ticket-takers as to the new policy, but said that only earned him a lecture from a Raleigh Police Department officer and a Wake County deputy. The heated exchange didn't bring any answers to his questions, but left him concerned that such situations could eventually bring legal ramifications to NC State.
"My biggest concerns are that law-abiding people are being treated like criminals," said Nelson. "Safety is one thing, but to treat people who have contributed a lot to the program like trash is another.
"Another concern is that they're going to do something illegal to someone who really knows the law, and NC State is going to have a giant lawsuit on their hands that they can't win."
Associate Athletics Director of External Operations Dick Christy said that his office receives such feedback constantly, and always makes every effort to respond to fans. He said that he was made aware of some inconsistencies on the part of stadium personnel for the Wofford game.
"Our event staff company, Staff One has a company policy not to touch members of the opposite sex during search – though this is not a legal standard," said Christy. "That being said, we know that new or inexperienced employees can make mistakes and we do not discount the accounts that their company policy was broken in some instances during the Wofford game. We met promptly after the game to discuss this issue and review our search protocol."
Some fans perceived a difference in how aggressively they were addressed upon entering Carter-Finley, leading to questions about whether there had been a change in policy.
"Public safety officials have asked that Staff One perform a Level II inspection," Christy said. "This involves a visual inspection of the person and visual inspection of bags. If there is a bulge in a pocket, or something looks suspicious, they would ask the person to take everything out of their pocket, and in some cases, touch the pocket to speed up the inspection – this touching of the pocket has been confused for a pat-down by some fans."
Stadium personnel will not use a Level III inspection, which is a full-body pat-down policy that is in place in NFL stadiums. As to queries about why some gates seem to adopt different standards than others for entering fans, Christy said that his staff is aware of the concerns and will continue to monitor gates for discrepancies in operation.
"We are going to continue with the same protocol for search at gates based on weapons and contraband discovered previously," said Christy. "However, we have had supervisory oversight increased at stadium gates for event personnel and have randomly videotaped the gate procedures being conducted for quality assurance and consistency."
Issues concerning entrance policies to home games don't stop with alumni – it extends to students as well. Many have observed empty student-only sections in Carter-Finley well into games, while students have complained about long lines to enter the contests and difficulty in getting to their seats.
Percy Tyndall is in his final semester at NC State, and he has little difficulty gaining quick entry to games – 15 minutes or less. That's because he enters the stadium an hour and 45 minutes prior to kickoff. He and Christy agree that part of the problem that students encounter gaining access is when there is a mad dash for the gates close to kickoff time.
"The problem arises when thousands of students continue tailgating and arrive at the student gates around 30 minutes before kickoff," said Tyndall. "With only [four] gates, this causes a lot of students to miss kickoff, especially with the added time from the head-to-toe security checks. This sometimes leads to entire student sections – like the north end zone – to be empty at kickoff."
"It is an unfortunate reality for all our fans that when a majority of your attendees wish to enter the facility on a truncated timelines, such as 20 or 30 minutes, facility security protocol must be followed and the volume increases the wait times exponentially," said Christy. "Patrons are asked to approach the gate with their barcode out and ready to display to the staff. When students come to the game unprepared, it can slow entry times."
According to Christy, students account for less than 14 percent of total attendance at Carter-Finley Stadium; yet the gates allocated for student entry (10A, 10, 10B, 11A) account for more than 18% of the public entry gates.
"Gate allocation is not the issue," said Christy.
Additionally, the scanning devices used by personnel actually reduce the processing time of taking, stubbing and returning a hard ticket. However, Christy's staff estimates that, in the first 60 minutes that stadium gates or open, less than 35 percent of students have entered the stadium – as opposed to upwards of 40 percent of non-students entering in the same timeframe. Even though student lines were more manageable for the Clemson game, complaints have still filtered in to Christy's office.
A number of factors go into the issue of delayed entry for students, but NC State is dedicated to addressing the problem through an ongoing search for viable solutions.
"Despite all these facts, feedback from our students has not fallen on deaf ears," Christy said. "Our Chancellor and Athletics Director implemented change for the Clemson football game this year [so] that a fifth student gate be opened with additional bag check, ticket scanners and hand-stamping personnel. Our facilities staff increased line signage, corrals and staffing in an effort to help.
"At kickoff, more than 1,000 members of our student body were estimated to be still tailgating or still approaching the stadium gates, thereby alleviating the typical wait time in that 20-minute pregame window."
Since he arrived at NC State in the fall of 2003, Tyndall has been a student long enough to have experienced the former assigned-seating system and the current voucher policy. Under the previous policy, students would stand in line for a voucher, have to look online to see if their voucher won, then return the next day to stand in line for a random ticket location that they could proceed to the game with. Feedback to Student Government indicated that students felt they were having to devote too much time during the week to the ticket process.
In addition, some students would make copies of vouchers for their friends or pass their tickets to other students at the game, resulting in overcrowding in some lower-level sections. As a result, the procedure was troublesome for all involved.
"It had its problems, though, and Student Government abused their power and hoarded vouchers to give to their friends," said Tyndall. "Contrary to what most people believe, overcrowding and people sneaking into sections were major issues. Even with this system, the lines were still long 30 minutes or less before kickoff, and a lot of people would get tickets and not attend the game."
Christy said that the Athletics Department attempts to serve in the steward role when it comes to dealing with student ticketing policies. The Student Government drives most of the policies and procedures for athletic events, basing decisions on constituent feedback. When the Student Government voiced concerns that were coming in from students regarding the policy, the Athletics Department, Student Affairs, Student Government and Public Safety investigated various software companies that could safely and effectively adopt and implement a new procedure.
"We have a great deal of communication with the student body elected officials to let them know what is feasible and what may be difficult to implement to help guide them when considering policy change," said Christy.
The Athletics Department took on an annual expense of close to $40,000 to implement the online solution and distribution changes. Unfortunately, the new policy of general admission by section quickly degenerated into the same overcrowding issues soon after implementation. The time commitments during the week to get tickets were better, but similar problems remained: late-arriving crowds, overcrowding in the lower deck and student ticket counterfeiting. To help alleviate Photoshop edits and copying, all parties agreed upon a hand-stamping procedure geared toward alleviating some of the problems.
These parties are all still undergoing a learning process about how to most effectively address student entry to games, but Tyndall is among many who prefer the current student policy to previous procedures. Christy also believes that, while constant improvement is still necessary, the policy that is in place now is working effectively.
"Personally, I like the online system better, since my friends and I don't have to skip class just to stop and get tickets," Tyndall said. "I believe the new system is much better and allows the more dedicated fans to get there early and get close to the action.
"Since [the opener vs. Central Florida], I've seen a major improvement in the performance of the security staff at the Wofford and Clemson games. There's a lot less unnecessary and unwarranted checks and the [event] staff [is] a lot more courteous."
"Though we still have work to do in encouraging students to arrive at the gates earlier, the online system has made a very user-friendly and convenient option for students to request and receive tickets without ever leaving their dorm room," Christy said. "Without significant changes, the game-day procedures now are required to continue that print-at-home convenience."
Obstacles and challenges will constantly pop up for Christy and his staff to address – the lack of drinking water available and concerns about odorous cups during the hot and humid State-Clemson game were identified by several attendees. Christy said that his office has received some questions about a perceived increase in public safety presence at NC State home games as well, but he said that the number of law enforcement officials in place on game days has remained consistent.
"Staffing has remained the same for all home football games this year," said Christy. "The possible reason people are seeing more police presence is that we have gone to high-visibility vests for most of the officers working the games, including Wake County and Raleigh Police."
The job of accommodating 60,000 fans as a whole while attempting to ensure the satisfaction of each individual is a large, full-time one for Christy, the Athletics Department and the NC State administration. The university seeks to be made aware of any difficulties encountered by Wolfpack fans, then do their best to address the situation in a way that is amenable to all involved.
"We receive e-mails and calls on a consistent basis," Christy said. "[We] do everything possible not only to respond to these customers, but also initiate pointed discussions with our operations staff to evaluate if policies or procedures require change."
Of course, perhaps a few of the complaints and issues could be fixed with the simple application of a few more Wolfpack victories. Nelson and Tyndall are among those Pack fans who will continue to voice their concerns – but will also be back in their seats cheering just as hard as ever for the next home game.
"No matter what the rules are, my group and I will continue to go to and enjoy the games," said Tyndall, "as long as we have a ticket and are physically able to make it."