Changes in Michigan ticket policy should provide Texas template

Erich Schlegel

Steve Patterson need only look to another major program for ideas about how to improve the atmosphere at DKR.

After a failed attempt at using a general admission seating policy for students at football games, the Michigan Wolverines have now moved to an incentive-based system that rewards those who show up early and often.

Several weeks ago, the Twitter diatribe from Texas Longhorns cornerback Quandre Diggs put into stark relief the issues facing the gameday experience at Darell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Or perhaps more precisely -- the issues that result in the students not making it to games early, being loud, or staying late, though Diggs also criticized other fans who tend to leave early or not make noise when things go poorly.

Diggs wants a general admission policy for students that allows seats on a first-come, first-serve basis to students, citing Kansas State as a school that benefits from such a policy. He also wants free student tickets, but there's no way that's happening, so the real impetus of what he's saying rests with making seating a free-for-all on game day.

So besides the fact that fans don't make enough noise in general, what's wrong with the current seating policy?

Current student Curry Shoff outlined th issues with ticket allocation, which is based on seniority:

Students are assigned a specific seat at each game, not just their section. Those who feel entitled to good seats just because they purchased them in June have no incentive to get to the game early. Instead, they can waltz into DKR at kickoff and go straight to their seat. The same goes for every other student who has purchased a student ticket. It's the reason that the "Turn Up DKR" game from last season was doomed to fail from its inception. There is zero incentive for showing up early. There is zero incentive for being a good fan.

Incentivizing the process is the key to force students to get to the stadium early and stay, something that the probable advent of beer and wine sales in the stadium may help as long as there aren't issues at spring events, since students of drinking age wouldn't have to leave the stadium to tend to their deteriorating buzz or hang around at their tailgate trying to drink that final pre-game beer.

Shoff has a plan that includes in-season incentives offering better seats, while the Texas student government now has a group, Students for Texas Athletics, that is advocating for student interests in regards to ticket policies, presumably in a similar direction.

So what's going on in Ann Arbor?

The plan now at Michigan is that the students who show up early and attend the most games get blocks of seats the next season closer to the action than students who showed up late or missed games.

The changes were in response to complaints from students about the general admission policy that the Wolverines used for only one season. And the new policy was one developed in close association with the student government.

Despite the advocacy of Diggs, the general admission seating plan was one that failed at Michigan because students plain didn't like it, even though it did accomplish the goal of getting them into their seats earlier.

Here's how the new policy is going to work:

Attendance points will be accumulated the following ways: each game attended is three points and arriving 30 minutes prior to kickoff earns an additional three points per game, for a total of six points per game.

In other words, if students want changes in ticket policy, they need to make their voices heard both to athletic director Steve Patterson and to the student government through the Students for Texas Athletics, which should have an active role in crafting such policies to benefit the gameday experience, language that Patterson surely understands, given that he's used it to talk about the expansion of the south end zone.

Until that happens, ensuring that the student section is both full, close to the field, and in range of the Texas band are the biggest priorities.

As long as the student groups can advocate in a comprehensive manner, the student ticket policies for the 2014 season could be instructive in how willing Patterson is to change the status quo in an effort to actually improve home-field advantage for the Longhorns in the short term.

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