Tickets to the bigwig section

Posted: Apr 03, 2005 12:00 AM

Though March is gone, the madness of the NCAA basketball tournament continues this weekend with the Final Four. Yet, lost in all that fun madness is this scandal: According to the University of Illinois, some Fighting Illini fans are more important than others.

So far, the Illini have weathered the scandal handily. The story broke weeks ago . . . and fizzled. It was of little note when they won the Big Ten and went on to win their first games of the NCAA tournament. And, after coming back from 13 points down with just minutes to play against Arizona, and then winning in overtime to earn a spot in the Final Four, well, hardly a word has been uttered about egalitarianism or privilege. Instead, all the talk has been about defense and Illinois' three-guard line-up.

But, what about the scandal over ticket sales?

Now, I'm not talking about the policy to sell tickets game-by-game, way in advance. Dropping the season ticket scheme was probably a smart move. It certainly helped farsighted fans get tickets ? and other farsighted individuals to engage in a lucrative scalpers' biz, on the streets and on eBay.

That's just supply and demand. To complain about that is like complaining how unfair it is that tall people have such an advantage making dunks and grabbing rebounds.

No, the ticket sales I'm talking about are the cheap ones set aside for the people who really count. The politicians. And those of the politicians' bloodlines.

When the ticket-set-aside story broke in late February, I noticed some pretty important Fighting Illini fans. Former Governor Jim Edgar bought over 60 tickets this season to the team's games. Illinois State Representatives Roger Eddy and Naomi Jakobsson bought over 30 each, while Democratic Senator Deanna Demuzio and Republican Kurt Granberg bought 16 each. In all, dozens of politicians bought tickets, some right before the games.

It's nice to see these highfalutin politicians mingling with the people in a beloved pastime, eh?

Well, no.

These "more equal" fans bought their tickets for $30 or less, outside the normal ticketing system, with the help of high-muckety-mucks at the University. The administration sets aside a certain number of tickets to go to its trustees and supporters and special friends. And the politicians who vote for the institution's programs are indeed special. Very.

Most fans, on the other hand, have to wait in line for tickets, pay a lot more at game, or go to scalpers who charge even more yet. Most must watch from home.

Now, this isn't the biggest scandal of our age. But it is a good marker of how Big Government institutions make room for a special class of people ? legislators and governors and such ? while treating the taxpayers who do the actual funding as little more than cash cows.

The University defended its policy, of course. It's just a few tickets, 147 for each home game.

Thankfully, some object. "I don't think it's right legislators can get tickets where the general public can't with a public entity involved. That's just wrong. It's a perk that shouldn't be there," Rep. Jack Franks, chairman of the House State Government Administration Committee was quoted, "and one I was unaware of," he added, ominously. Which is worse, I wonder, the fact that some politicians were getting cheap tickets, or the fact that others didn't know about it?

Well, I choose to believe Franks is on the side of the angels. At least he's complaining. A spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson defended the system nicely, saying "I'm sure higher ed funding, the U. of I., medical malpractice and the state budget were discussed. . . ."

Hmmm, noisy place for that discussion.

If this ticket policy were nothing more than a special frill for those who do the University big legislative favors ? a political bribe, say ? then maybe one could see the point of the policy. Maybe. If you were awfully tolerant and forgiving and not at all suspicious of power . . . and in position somehow to get the cheaper tickets.

But then why does the University grant tickets to the family members of former governors? The son of former Governor George Ryan was among the biggest ticket users. What possible use was he to the University? And the fact that his father is under indictment, is that not supposed to matter to us, either?

There is a ruling class in America, and there is a paying class ? that's us. It shouldn't take an advanced degree in sociology or economics (or even a crash course with my Common Sense e-letter) to figure this out.

America's class system is firmly in place. Read all about it in the sports section.