Refund ruckus

The SEC office recently released its policy for ticket refunds to the tornado delayed conference tournament that was forced to relocate from the Georgia Dome to Georgia Tech's arena.

In essence, you can get a refund if you still have the ticket and if you purchased if from a member institution, the Georgia Dome or the SEC office.

Otherwise, you're out of luck.

I would suspect thousands of SEC fans are out of luck.

Some probably lost their tickets. Many more bought tickets on the secondary market.

There's nothing wrong with that. It happens every year at every tournament. Your team does not play until the second day, you don't want to pay $260 for six sessions when you only want to attend three or four, so you buy tickets from some guy whose team just lost in the first round.

Only problem is, if you did that, you don't get a refund.

The SEC has caught some flack from fans who think that's unfair. They feel if they've got a ticket for a session, they should get a $45 refund, regardless of how they acquired it.

The SEC says no.

Why balk at the secondary market tickets?

``There's no way to know how many times it was sold,'' said Charles Bloom, SEC spokesman. ``What's to stop someone from buying a ticket for $10 and trying to get a $45 refund?''

Nothing. But why does that matter to the SEC? Is it to save money? Is it to limit the financial bath the league will take from the usually profitable tournament?

Bloom said 22,000 tickets were sold to the SEC Tournament. If 20,000 got a full refund, that would be $2.5 million. Bloom said the SEC expects to refund $2 million to $2.5 million. That is a substantial hit.

Bloom said the other reason for the strict return policy is that each ticket says it must be purchased through a licensed office and may not be honored if bought otherwise.

Bloom said fans could have bought the tickets through licensed offices because the event was not a sellout. But that gets back to fans not wanting to purchase tickets for six sessions when their team will only play in three or four.

Licensed offices don't sell individual sessions. Why not?

``The SEC wants fans at all the games,'' Bloom said.

It also wants to make a huge profit. Last year, the tournament generated $4.3 million in profit. Not bad for a weekend's worth of work.

Bloom said the SEC considered giving a refund to each person in the data base that bought tickets, but many of them could have sold them on the secondary market, thus double dipping.

Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said he agreed with the ticket refund policy. He said the proposal was emailed last week while he was paying more attention to Tennessee playing in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Birmingham.

Asked the reasoning behind why fans who bought tickets on the secondary market wouldn't get a refund, Hamilton said: ``I don't know. I think they have a valid concern. There is not a perfect solution.''

No, there's not. But rather than assume fans got bargain basement deals on buying tickets in the secondary market, why not honor any ticket that is returned?

``When I got the policy, I felt I could live with it without thinking through the whole process,'' Hamilton said.

Kentucky fans were hit the hardest. Famous for buying leftover tickets, Wildcat fans didn't get to see one game in the Georgia Dome. The Kentucky-Georgia game was postponed Friday night, then Georgia upset Kentucky in a second round game at Georgia Tech's arena.

While the Georgia Dome has insurance, the SEC could only collect if the entire tournament were canceled. And Bloom said there was little discussion about canceling the remaining games. Each of the five teams left – Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi State – wanted to play.

``There's no text book on how to deal with this situation,'' Hamilton said. ``It's easy to go back and shoot holes in (the decisions). But you were dealing with a decision made at 4 a.m. with tipoff six hours away and no tickets to issue. It was a massive undertaking.''

NO. 2 SEEDS WERE NOT SEEDED

Contrary to popular belief, Tennessee was not the last of the No. 2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the NCAA Selection Committee only ranks the No. 1 seeds.

Hamilton, who thought the two seeds were ranked, said two selection committee members told him they do not seed the two seeds.

``Tennessee's plight was determined based on location,'' Hamilton said.

Hamilton and Bruce Pearl felt UT was the last of the two seeds because it was put in the bracket with the top No. 1 seed – North Carolina.

UT was able to play closer to home – Birmingham, then Charlotte. But playing in Charlotte is no bargain, given you likely will play North Carolina in the regional final before a huge Tar Heel fan base.

Hamilton said UT lost well over $100,000 by playing road games at Xavier and Gonzaga – instead of more home games – to help the Vols obtain a No. 1 RPI. But Hamilton said the schedule helped prepare the team for the NCAA tournament. He also noted that UT benefited two years ago from a high RPI.

SKY BOX RETENTION RATE HIGH

Tennessee has raised the price on football sky boxes from $39,500 annually to $48,000.

Hamilton said it's the first increase in five years, whereas other programs have implemented annual hikes.

``Our prices are still under the market,'' Hamilton said.

`Maybe so, but it was enough to convince six or seven skybox holders – out of 118 – not to renew by the March 1 deadline.

Hamilton said he thought more would not renew. He also said UT has a waiting list of people willing to purchase the boxes, which have 12 permanent seats and four bar stools.


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