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Maryland has a basketball student ticket problem

Maryland students pay $400 per year for "free" basketball tickets, and the few students lucky enough to actually get them regularly price gouge their own classmates while selling them off. It's time for it to stop.

Sung Min Kim/Testudo Times

Thursday night marks the final Maryland basketball home game not just for Jake Layman, Rasheed Sulaimon and the Terps' oldest veterans, but for all of the university's graduating seniors. The Terps are really good this year, so student tickets have been very much in-demand all season, and they're a typically hot item leading up to the home finale.

Xfinity Center holds a little less than 18,000 fans for basketball. The arena has 4,000 student seats, which are doled out to students through a lottery system. Tickets are "free" (more on this in a moment), and it's strictly against athletic department policy for students to sell tickets to one another. Yet, that hasn't stopped a lot of people.

Here are some screenshots from my (2016) class Facebook page:




There are many more of these, for virtually every Big Ten game this season, plus Georgetown.

I'm no narc, I swear. But this is a bad thing, and it's a bad thing for a whole host of reasons.

First, some context:

Maryland tickets are free for students, which means they're not really free. Every full-time Maryland undergraduate pays a mandatory student fee of $406 per year to the athletic department. Mandatory means mandatory, which means students have no way to avoid paying the athletic department's bills – even if that student has never looked at a basketball and has no interest whatsoever in sports. The athletic department easily clears $11 million per year in student fee revenue.

That means Maryland basketball (and football) tickets, right off the hop, are not a free market. Every student pays a student fee whether he or she prefers to or not. Maryland's tickets are "free" because Maryland collects a massive student fee. As of 2013-14, Maryland was one of just three Big Ten institutions that charged any student fee at all, and the Terps collected more than triple the revenue from the fees of any of their peers. So every single student is subsidizing the cost of giving away free tickets, but only 4,000 can watch Melo Trimble in person.

This isn't an ideal situation, and it's an argument in and of itself against Maryland's model of athletic finances. If students at, say, Michigan want to go to basketball games, they can vie for a limited number of tickets, but if they don't get them, at least they don't also have to pay for them. At Maryland, a maximum of under 15 percent of the students who pay for student tickets (27,000-plus undergraduates plus about 10,000 graduate students) can actually attend the game.

Maryland does what it can within this constraint to equitably fill its seats. There's a lottery system in place, under which students earn "loyalty points" for game attendance, which are then applied to future lotteries and, in theory, make it likelier that those students can get tickets to future games. That's a somewhat fair outcome if people act in good faith and follow the rules.

Except not everyone follows the rules. More than a few students win tickets through the lottery with no apparent intention of going to the game, then sell the tickets to the highest bidder, using class Facebook pages and group listservs as a sort of student section Craigslist. It's an easy way to exploit fellow students' fandom and their desire to watch their basketball team play during the relatively short time they're actually in college.

(Photo: Sung Min Kim/Testudo Times)

On an individual level, it's hard to blame people for maximizing their own profit. In this case, it's a systemic problem.

Everybody pays the same thing for tickets under a clearly pre-set market mandated by the university through student fees. This is not the same thing as professional ticket scalping, where someone pays a privately set face value for a ticket and then flips it at a profit. This is a much simpler exploitation of scarcity, like selling off a lottery-won food ration during a famine. (No I'm not comparing the two in severity.)

Maryland obviously agrees with this. The "sale or attempted sale of student tickets" is strictly prohibited under the school's student ticketing policy, but the athletic department doesn't do a ton in the way of enforcement. To be fair, it's a tough violation to catch, especially now that students can legally transfer tickets to one another. If two kids in the bathroom at R.J. Bentley's come to a cash sale and then transfer the ticket to the buyer's name, there's virtually nothing to be done about it.

Facebook seems like a different matter, though. It shouldn't be difficult to cross-check ticket registries with Facebook page ticket sellers, then deactivate their tickets and give them to students who actually want to go to the games – and who've already paid $406 for a fair shot at getting tickets.

Some might counter that I, with a press credential, don't actually need tickets to go to games anymore, and so this is easy for me to say. That's definitely true. But I've got roommates who legitimately care about these games and have missed out on tickets, and they're not up for paying top dollar (whatever it may be) while on a college budget. After all, they already paid for them. So they'll watch from home, while dozens of their peers will walk with lighter wallets to the game, having been extra-charged because some of our classmates have chosen not to play by the rules. I imagine there are hundreds and maybe thousands of students, some of them my friends, dealing with the same thing.

One of my favorite things about Maryland is how good the people usually are to each other. When we gouge each other over basketball tickets, we're penalizing each other for our passion.

It falls well short of our school's best ideals. It should stop.