Final Four Scalpers Beware

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Police and the NCAA will be watching closely for ticket scalpers, including coaches, as college basketball fans converge on St. Louis for the sport's grand event.

St. Louis is hosting the men's Final Four for the first time since 1978. The 46,688 seats at the Edward Jones Dome were sold out months ago, and with a large contingent of Illinois and Louisville fans coming (Champaign, Ill., is just 2 1/2 hours away, Louisville four hours), ticket scalping is a big concern.

Based upon past experience, some of those scalpers will be coaches. Every Division I coach has a chance to obtain tickets, and some have been known to sell them for a profit.

"I would say there has been a problem with coaches," said L.J. Wright, director of the NCAA's Division I Men's Basketball Championship. "It is a problem the basketball committee is trying to work through and deal with."

Earlier this month, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice acknowledged scalping some of his personal ticket allotment for the Super Bowl, violating NFL rules. Wright said NCAA coaches also have been known to resell their tickets.

Sometimes, Wright said, it's an innocent mistake. A coach will decide not to attend the Final Four and will give his tickets to an acquaintance. If that acquaintance scalps the tickets, they can be traced to the coach.

Doug Elgin, commissioner of the St. Louis-based Missouri Valley Conference that helped lure the Final Four to the Gateway City, believes coaches have gotten the message and either attend the game or leave the tickets unused.

"People are not willing to take the risk of losing future ticket privileges by giving them to someone other than a trusted relative or friend," Elgin said.

Punishment for coaches caught scalping tickets is loss of ticket privileges for up to five years. It's also a crime in Missouri to resell tickets at more than face value. First-time violators can face up to 15 days in jail, with a third offense perhaps bringing up to a year behind bars.

Both the NCAA and St. Louis police will have undercover officers posing as ticket buyers, seeking out scalpers on the streets and at downtown hotels.

The potential for scalping is huge, given the scarcity of tickets. Only about 10,000 were available to the general public, and those tickets were sold out in May through a random online drawing.

The rest go to organizations and individuals with ties to the NCAA. Each of the four teams, Illinois, Louisville, Michigan State and North Carolina, gets 4,500 each; the local organizing committee gets 10 percent, or about 4,600; each of the 300-plus Division I schools gets tickets, as does the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Recipients of the NCAA allotment pay face value, which this year ranges from $110 to $170 per ticket. But scalpers can get much more.

Fans seeking to buy tickets through brokers and online are finding prices ranging well into five figures. Adrian Hochstadt, a 44-year-old Chicago attorney and Illinois alumnus, began posting Web messages several weeks ago, seeking tickets in anticipation that the top-ranked Illini would make it to St. Louis.

He bought tickets about a month ago on eBay, two tickets for all three games for $720. Face value was $260.

Hochstadt figures he got a bargain; he checked eBay after the Illini's victory in the regional finals and found similar seats selling for $1,300.

"I think Illinois' success drove up the price because we're so hungry; we've never won a national championship," Hochstadt said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance."

For fans coming to St. Louis on the hope of finding tickets on the street, Wright urged caution.

"Just because of counterfeit tickets in the past, we would encourage folks to be careful," Wright said. "It's just one of those things where unfortunately there are some bad folks out there who want to take advantage of the fans."