Northern Illinois is going to do whatever it can to fill seats at the Orange Bowl, including giving a free ticket to any student who can get down to Miami for the game.
Tickets to the Orange Bowl are being sold through Northern Illinois at between $75 and $225, but NIU students can reserve their one free ticket starting Monday morning. NIU has about 22,000 students. The ticket must be picked up in Miami, but the school also planned to unveil "fan and student bus packages" to the site of the game.
That is a nice gesture, but it's also a glimpse at the tough truth for schools. Even though the excitement about getting an improbable BCS berth hasn't even started to wear off, the school and its athletic department has a potential financial issue with going to a game like the Orange Bowl.
As Yahoo! columnist Pat Forde pointed out, NIU has to take 17,500 tickets, and its average attendance this year is 15,670. A perhaps once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Orange Bowl will draw more of the 225,000 NIU alumni the school has than some midweek MAC game would, but the concern is ending up like UConn.
At the end of the 2010 season, UConn went to the Fiesta Bowl. The Huskies were beaten 48-20 by Oklahoma, and that wasn't the worst part of the trip. The school lost $1.8 million on the game, in large part because it sold just 2,771 tickets of its 17,500 allotment. The unsold tickets alone cost the school $2,924,385. And that's the dirty part of the bowl system.
Giving away tickets won't help that potential financial issue for the school, but it is classy by the school to do it, it will be something those students will remember forever, and it'll ensure a few more Northern Illinois fans at the biggest game in school history.
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