file photo shows Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson (14 ) scrambling from the pocket with pressure by Western Kentucky defenders Ryan Beard (15) and Ben Sowders (48) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
The Crimson Club is welcoming new donors this week, thanks to eager Alabama fans hoping to land tickets for the Sugar Bowl matchup against undefeated Utah in New Orleans.
The Crimson Club, it should be noted, is the fundraising arm for University of Utah athletics.
The irony is likely not lost on Utah’s administration. Tickets are a different story.
One 15-minute quarter sent Alabama from a national championship showdown with Oklahoma to a game against the Mountain West champion. But the initial disappointment isn’t keeping the Crimson Tide faithful from attempting to find tickets to Alabama’s first BCS game since the 2000 Orange Bowl, even if the search takes them to Utah’s fundraising Web site and costs $100 to join.
Walt Danley, a Tide fan and Chattanooga resident, said the number of buyers are equaling the sellers on Alabama fan message boards. Danley bought two tickets as a Tide Pride donor and found others on a Web site called firstdibz.com.
“Once you get past the disappointment of losing to Florida,” he said, “it’s a fun trip to New Orleans. One guy joined Utah’s Crimson Club and got better seats. Pretty ingenious, actually.”
The crux of the issue is the lack of tickets distributed by the Sugar Bowl, which gives 17,500 to each school. For a school that draws 92,138 to a Western Kentucky game, the allotment is insufficient and none are available to the general public. Donors receive 57 percent, students get 12 percent and the rest are allocated for lettermen, faculty and families of players and staff.
“Like any major bowl, we’ve got to deal with our season-ticket base at the Superdome, and it continues to grow,” said Sugar Bowl chief executive officer Paul Hoolahan, a former Vanderbilt athletic director. “We’ve got a host of sponsors supporting the event. We’ve got corporate obligations. You have obligations not only to the schools but to the conferences, to the NCAA, a whole myriad of groups that you’re involved with.
“We realize that 17,500 tickets is going to be a problem. It’s basically what we have to work with.”
So how do so many end up on the street outside the Superdome?
“I can’t answer that,” he said. “It happens everywhere.”
Alabama fans without seats to the Jan. 2 game are hoping Utah fails to fulfill its ticket allotment. For the 2005 Fiesta Bowl in Arizona, Utah fans took a shorter trip to see their team, coached by Urban Meyer, finish a perfect season with a win over Pittsburgh.
The matchup against Alabama, ranked fourth in the BCS, is considered a more marquee game. Utah is ranked sixth, giving the Sugar Bowl its first pairing of teams ranked in the top six outside of championship games.
“The SEC championship did not go quite as we planned,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said, “but this is about as good as it gets in terms of being able to come to the Sugar Bowl.”
The trip to New Orleans is much farther this time for Utah fans. Airline tickets soared to more than $1,000 for flights from Utah to Louisiana after the announcement last Sunday. Very few will express surprise, including the Sugar Bowl executives, if Alabama fans dominate the Superdome.
“Given the fact that Alabama has a long tradition with the bowl and hasn’t been here in quite a while (16 years), we anticipate quite a demand,” Hoolahan said.
Not everyone is going. Ron McKelvy, president of Chattanooga’s University of Alabama alumni chapter, was anticipating a trip to Miami for the national title game and said he will wait until Alabama earns a championship berth before attending a bowl.
Danley also was prepared for a trip to South Florida, but he’ll settle for a visit to New Orleans, echoing the sentiments of Alabama’s head coach.
“Like Coach Saban says,” Danley said, “it’s part of the process.”