Not all Tiger fans leave happy
By Dan Wolken
August 5, 2007
After the first few days of re-seating at FedExForum, when it became obvious that even people who increased their Tiger Scholarship Fund donations might not get the seats they desired, the University of Memphis decided to offer refunds to any ticket holders who weren't happy with the available selection.
Apparently, not many took the school up on that offer.
"We had four or five," associate athletic director Bill Lansden said Thursday, the day after his staff completed the re-seating. "They were people who came in at $2,500 and thought they would be in the lower levels. But it was just a handful of them."
And thus ended a three-week process in which Memphis sold every single seat in the lower and club levels and finished with less than 1,000 seats unsold in the upper deck.
Though the numbers are astounding, it was not easy to keep everyone happy. In fact, Lansden at one point had to improvise, selling 40 seats from the media overflow area on the club level and 64 seats on the front row of the Opus restaurant.
But at the end of the day, even the people who weren't necessarily pleased with their seat location did not want to miss out on the 2007-08 season, which the Tigers will likely enter ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in every poll.
"We've been through over 3,000 accounts, and most people are very understanding of the dynamics of the whole situation," Lansden said.
The biggest point of contention came from the $2,500 donors. Though the school originally projected that amount to be good enough for club level seats, "there was no guarantee," Lansden said.
The difference may have been in the $15,000 giving level, which was new for this re-seating. Originally, Memphis projected 30 donors at that level but ended up with 69, who were allowed to buy eight tickets each. That difference of 312 lower-level tickets pushed some of the $2,500 donors upstairs.
Ultimately, the bigger issue facing the Memphis athletic department is whether the fans who were not happy with the outcome will stay on board for the long term.
Bernard Lipsey, a longtime season-ticket holder from Memphis, said he was not happy with the way he was treated during the process. Lipsey, who has six lower-level season tickets, said he was not allowed to select two aisle seats as he had done in past years (even though some were available, he said).
"The process, the money didn't bother me as much as the attitude," Lipsey said. "I didn't ask for a whole lot of things. I asked for one simple thing. I asked to be treated with a little bit of respect. I have 30 years of season tickets, and they always won't have a Calipari out there, there always won't be a No. 1 rating, and they're going to be looking for all those fans they didn't treat right."
When senior Joey Dorsey characterized the on-campus facility where the Tiger basketball team lives as "almost like a mansion" in an interview with SI.com's Luke Winn last month, pretty much everybody associated with the program cringed.
In a business where coaches and school officials accuse each other of impropriety at every opportunity, it was not the smartest choice of words. Though completely inadvertent on Dorsey's part, the mere suggestion that the Tigers live in a "mansion" apart from the rest of the student body set off plenty of Internet chatter on opposing schools' message boards accusing Memphis of breaking NCAA rules.
Though the basketball team does live together in a nicely appointed townhouse on the Carpenter Complex, school officials had previously ensured that everything about it was within NCAA guidelines.
Once Dorsey's comments appeared in print, however, coach John Calipari and athletic director R.C. Johnson sent the department's compliance staff to check it out again. The result?
"Everything's good," Johnson said.
The main issue, from an NCAA standpoint, is the 2002 rule that eliminated athletic dorms. As long as athletes make up just 49 percent of a facility, it is not considered an athletic dorm.
"The athletic dorm days are over, but as long as you have the appropriate (non-athlete) representation, there is no reason you can't do something nice," Johnson said.
With the NBA releasing the Grizzlies' schedule, it doesn't appear there will be many Tigers-Grizzlies doubleheaders at the FedExForum this season.
There are two certain doubleheaders; the Tigers' Dec. 22 game against Georgetown and Jan. 26 game against Gonzaga will be played in the afternoon before the Grizzlies play on those nights. Conference USA has not yet released the league schedule, but there are only three potential Saturdays in which the Tigers could be assigned a home game while the Grizzlies are in town: Feb. 2, March 1 and March 8.
That leaves seven potential Saturday nights for the Tigers this season. Memphis had the arena just once last season on a Saturday night and drew its largest crowd. Three games will certainly be Saturday nights: Dec. 29 against Arizona, Jan. 5 against Pepperdine and Feb. 23 against Tennessee. As of right now, Memphis could also host Saturday night C-USA games on Jan. 12, Jan. 19, Feb. 9 and Feb. 16.
The John Calipari Basketball School added a final youth summer camp that will begin Monday. The camp runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Wednesday at the Finch Center on Spottswood and Echles. The cost is $125; lunch is not provided.
To reach reporter Dan Wolken, call 529-2365