A $25 ticket to the NCAA championship? It could have been yours if you’d known where to look

ATLANTA – A ticket to the NCAA championship game for $25 could have been yours, if you’d been in the right place at the right time.

Saturday night, there were less than three minutes left in the Louisville-Wichita State game, and the vultures were starting to circle. Their prey: the poor heartbroken fans of whichever team was about to fall in the NCAA Tournament semifinal.

Why? Simple. Because when your team falls early in the NCAAs, you’re still most likely holding still-good tickets to future games, thanks to the ticket package you’ve already bought. And even though your championship dreams are worthless, your ticket remains extremely valuable.

How valuable? Depends on the minute, really; tickets are more volatile than dot-com IPOs (with roughly the same shelf life). But consider: the ratio of would-be buyers to sellers outside the Georgia Dome Saturday night was, conservatively estimating, at least 30-1. That meant some quality tickets were selling for $400 and up, cash-in-hand.

So, yes, when the game ended and the shocked Wichita State fans began filing out of their seats, the scalpers didn’t see proud but disappointed Shockers; no, they saw wounded antelope. And they pounced.

The hopeful vultures roamed the plaza in front of the Georgia Dome. The conniving ones camped out inside the Dome, at the top of the stairs to sections 126 and 127, catching the Wichita State fans while they were still within sight of their seats.

“They were all over me as soon as I stood up,” said Sherl Weatherbee, a loyal Shocker who’d journeyed with her husband Tony not just to this tournament, but to Wichita State’s two previous tourney destinations. “I just kept saying, ‘No, no, no.’”

The Weatherbees decided to hang onto their Monday night ticket for souvenir purposes. As they were posing with it for a picture, a college-aged kid walked up to them.

“I’ll give you $150 cash for that right now,” he said.

“We’re not selling,” Sherl replied. “We’re keeping it as a souvenir.”

“A souvenir …. ? But I’ll give you $150 right now! That’s cash money!”

“Someday you’ll understand,” Sherl said.

Other Wichita State fans decided to go for the money. One family sold theirs for face value – “$140, something like that,” the matriarch of the group said as they walked sadly into the night, refusing to give their names.

Others got greedy, trying to sell two lower-level tickets for $1,000 apiece. When the potential buyer balked, the seller instantly dropped his price to $600. (He still didn’t make a sale.)

Still, by the time they’d reached the plaza outside the Dome, most Shocker fans had either sold their tickets or decided to hold onto them, shaking their heads again and again like a cheerleader parrying prom invitations. That left dozens, if not hundreds, of fans literally out in the (not very) cold.

"I've got $80, that's all I can spend," said Jeremy Roth, a Michigan fan standing in the shadow of the CNN Center adjacent to the Dome. "Nobody's got anything now, though."

The lesson, then, is obvious: if you’re going to prey on the losers, get to them early, before the shock really sets in. Take, for example, that $25 ticket. That was courtesy of Kevin Miller of Wichita, who was wandering away from the Dome with a dazed look in his eye and only a few bucks in his pocket.

“Out of sight,” he said, “out of mind.”

And out of a potential payday, too. But when your team's just lost in the Final Four, you're not always in your right mind.

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