Sitting at 0-5 in the Big Ten, which is good for sole possession of last place, the Penn State basketball team needs all the help it can get.
That's why it was so puzzling when some fans who showed up for Saturday afternoon's home game against Purdue at the Bryce Jordan Center were turned away at the door because the game was sold out.
For the record, official attendance for the game was listed at 8,949 fans. Capacity for the arena is just slighty more than that -- 15,261. And for the record, there were hundreds of empty seats in the lower bowl of the facility Saturday.
As it turns out, the PSU athletic department made an internal decision before the season to close the upper deck of the arena for Nittany Lion basketball games. The deck is closed off by giant curtains.
The idea was to make the atmosphere for State's generally poorly attended home games better. And for the most part, it has worked. Until Saturday, when the largest home crowd of the season showed up.
Once all tickets for the lower bowl had been sold, a sellout was declared and fans trying to get in -- even those who had already paid for parking -- were turned away. This even though there were thousands of empty seats available.
After dropping a painful overtime decision to Boilermakers, Penn State coach Pat Chambers had to address the situation.
Trying to create a demand, Chambers said. We need the lower bowl filled. And I saw a lot of empty seats, so that surprises me that anyone was turned away. There were plenty of seats that were empty. So that's disappointing. However, when we open up the top curtain, you can't hear the fans, you can't hear anything, there's no home-court advantage. I want to push everybody down as close as I can to the court, to give us that extra little energy we might need.
I apologize to those who didn't get in, he added. But I hope you'll come back.
Sunday, the athletic department issued an apology for the head-scratching move involving a program that has long struggled to draw fans. It is offering free tickets to future games for anyone who was turned away and refunds for those who paid for parking but were not allowed into the Jordan Center.
It read as follows:
Penn State Athletics would like to apologize to those fans that made the trip to the University Park Campus, intending to attend our men's basketball game vs. Purdue University, and were turned away. Collegiate athletics provides a unique experience, one that is not possible without our passionate alumni, fans and students, and that experience was limited on Saturday.
In an attempt to create an intimate atmosphere in the Bryce Jordan Center, and provide as much as a home court advantage as possible, we implemented a decision made before the season to not open the upper level curtain on game day. Capacity in the lower bowl was reached after gates opened on Saturday, which led to approximately 30 fans being turned away at the box office.
Penn State Athletics intends to create opportunities for as many fans as possible to support our Nittany Lions and we acknowledge that we missed that objective on Saturday. Because of this, we will offer any fan that was turned away on Saturday two (2) complimentary tickets to the 2014-15 regular season home game of their choice, based on availability. Additionally, any fan who purchased parking and was unable to attend the game will receive a $5 refund to cover this cost. These fans can claim both their complimentary tickets and parking refund by calling 1-800-NITTANY, weekdays from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Fans are asked to please make their complimentary ticket or parking refund request by 5 p.m. on Monday, February 2.
We will continue to monitor ticket sales leading up to all home men's and women's basketball games this season. We maintain that the best atmosphere in the Bryce Jordan Center is achieved by first filling the lower bowl before seating fans in the upper level. As was our intention, we will monitor ticket distribution and, based on historical data and anticipated walk-up, make a decision at least one day in advance as to whether the curtain in the upper bowl will be raised.
Once ticket sales reach capacity in the lower bowl, then tickets will be sold for the upper seating areas.
Penn State Athletics greatly values the resources that we are able to provide our student-athletes because of the deep support of alumni and fans. Without this ongoing passion and commitment we would not be able to provide all we do for our 31 programs and 850 student-athletes and we want to thank our dedicated Penn Staters for your important role in their academic and athletic success.