KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two weeks before the start of Kansas basketball season, Allen Fieldhouse is not sold out. Which is to say that despite the same banners hanging from the rafters and the same chants booming from wall to wall, it might not be the same Allen Fieldhouse this season.
The Jayhawks have played in front of 147 consecutive packed houses, dating to the beginning of the 2001-02 season. To be inside the old barn for a game meant that you had either gotten lucky, knew someone important or cared enough about KU to spend a significant sum of money to watch 40 minutes of basketball. The place felt exclusive, which drove some KU folks crazy and led others in power to take advantage of having access to the hottest ticket in town.
But for now, Allen Fieldhouse is not sold out. Jim Marchiony, KU's associate athletic director for external relations, said 400 to 500 reserved season tickets are still available to the public.
The reasons make sense: The economy is in the tank, forcing some ticket holders not to renew. Others chose not to pony up because of angst directed toward the Williams Educational Fund and former Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins in the aftermath of the KU ticket scandal. And, of course, all of those tickets that slipped out the door illegally are now available to KU donors.
Add it all up, and it's a perfect storm that is threatening one of the constants of our region: sellout crowds at "The Phog."
True-blue Jayhawks take pride in that streak, so it was tough for a KU fan like Larry Tenopir to say no to his alma mater this year. He's had season tickets for 41 of the last 42 years, and as a Topeka attorney, he has the money. Only, he's decided to drop his donation to the Williams Fund from $3,000 to $100 and spend the difference on a TV instead.
"For me, it was Lew Perkins, completely," Tenopir said. "I had a lot of objections to him for years before the ticket scandal. The ticket scandal was the last straw. The only language they seem to understand is money. I didn't want to pay part of his salary anymore."
Because of donors refusing to renew for whatever reason and the newly available tickets that were being sold illegally in past years, many donors who decided to renew are being rewarded with improved seats. The positive is that they are now getting what they deserve. The negative is that they were getting short-changed in the past.
KU season-ticket holder Bill Roy, a KU alum who began getting season tickets only last year, already moved a couple of sections closer to the action.
"I moved from section 10A to the inside of 9," Roy said.
Ever since Perkins in 2004 implemented a priority points system, which rewards donors who give the most money with the best seats, longtime KU fans have complained that they had been priced out of Allen.
Now, non-Williams Fund members can buy season tickets and become members free of charge (it normally takes at least a $100 donation).
A full-season package is listed at $1,155 with a half-season costing $600. No, tickets are not exactly cheap, but at least they're available.
"We're looking at this definitely as a positive," Marchiony said, "something we didn't know was going to be available six months ago or eight months ago. But in our mind, it's a positive because it's going to allow people who haven't had the chance to buy season tickets to buy them."