Last week, on Day 1 of the Great Rose Bowl Ticket Siege, Athletic Director Rick Dickson was smiling despite a nasty cold and thousands of callers begging for passes to Pasadena.
“Great problems to have, I guess,” he said.
Fast forward to Tuesday, Day 9. The cold was gone. Dickson looked miserable.
He would have cried uncle, but he would still have, by his count, 350,000 people asking for 35,000 tickets.
“If anybody can do math differently than me, tell me how we can accommodate all 350,000? I don’t know,” he said in a press conference that was one part a plea for patience and several parts an attempt to clarify remarks about “Joes on the street.”
Dickson has become the point man in the kind of campus crisis that usually cries out for a presidential blue ribbon task force. One would be hard-pressed to name any other single issue - from student parking to ethnic diversity - that has caused so much furor at so many levels here in the past decade.
On top of the phone calls that clogged 1-800-GO-COUGS, Dickson and WSU President Sam Smith have fielded more than a dozen pieces of mail complaining about the ticket distribution process.
The letters, obtained Tuesday by The Spokesman-Review, come from people who have nonrefundable airplane tickets but no game tickets, alumni desperate to be recognized for their loyalty and just plain malcontents.
In an e-mail to Smith titled “The Bird,” one graduate went so far as to arrange a series of lower-case f’s to draw a well-known gesture of contempt.
Keith Molin, senior associate director of athletics at the University of Michigan, could relate.
Michigan has a slightly different ticket process - all students have a chance to buy tickets and some alumni are eligible - but it also has 66,000 season ticket holders to WSU’s 7,000.
“What you try to do is find the least unfair of all the options in front of you,” Molin said.
The list of WSU’s disgruntled even includes those given first crack at tickets: Cougar Club members, season-ticket holders, $1,000-plus academic contributors and student Sports Pass holders.
Gene Miller of Huntington Beach, Calif., faxed a 10-page letter on Tuesday complaining about getting only two tickets to the Rose Bowl.
He got one ticket for being a $100 Cougar Club member. He got the second ticket by paying what he called the $150 “bribe option.” But if the $258 he spent on game tickets this year were considered season tickets, and if the $1,600 he gave the college was considered an athletic contribution, he would have qualified for four more tickets.
To be sure, the Rose Bowl is only a game, albeit one between the nation’s No. 1 team and one that hasn’t been there in 67 years. To contributionconscious administrators, it has a real edge when alumni like Richard MacLean raise the prospect of diminished donations.
“This trip is something of a lifetime,” he said in a posting to the Alumni Association’s Rose Bowl feedback Web page. “Alum calls for support will be an every-year occurrence.”
“Maybe the athletic department should start thinking about who will be around to donate over the NEXT 67 years,” wrote Lauri Boknecht of San Francisco, who said she hasn’t had time to “donate thousands of dollars” since graduating in 1995.
The thousands of student Sports Pass holders who lined up outside the Beasley Coliseum ticket window Tuesday were relatively content.
“I can’t wait,” said Ryan Winkey of Spokane, who plans to drive 20 or so hours to Pasadena. “I wish it were tomorrow.”
But Winkey would have liked to be able to take his fiancee, and Brian Bell, a graduate student, was peeved that he couldn’t get a ticket for his wife, even though he had his marriage certificate along.
“So I’m going to duke it out at the Cougar Depot,” he said. “We were waiting since 6” - about 2-1/2 hours.
Fans have been particularly incensed over remarks Dickson made last week when a reporter asked what tickets would be available for “Joes off the street.”
“I guess maybe those Joes off the street were just betting it (a WSU Rose Bowl) wouldn’t happen,” Dickson said at the time. “For 67 years they were right. But you know what? They gambled and they lost on this one.”
In light of the ticket policy, many fans took that to mean Dickson thought Cougars who didn’t buy season tickets or contribute to athletics were less than loyal.
Dickson said Tuesday he was referring to last-minute fans who want to jump on the Cougar bandwagon now that they’re Rose Bowl-bound.
“My remarks were never intended to anyone with any crimson and gray blood.”
Dickson said he does not yet have figures on ticket sales but raised the possibility of some tickets becoming available for other students, staff and faculty. Details are pending.
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