Patrick Reusse: Seat ransom is poor reward for loyalty to U hoops

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 4, 2012 - 12:30 AM

The demand for a donation to renew Gophers season tickets is the last straw for some.

E.B. Pierce played basketball for the University of Minnesota in 1901-02. Later, he would work at the university as the registrar, dean of men and for 25 years as the secretary of the alumni association.

Pierce had an important role in raising funds to build Memorial Stadium and the Coffman Union, along with other facilities on campus.

"There has been a Pierce family member attached to the University of Minnesota as a student, an employee or a ticket-holder since 1901," said E.B.'s grandson, Tom Pierce, from his seat in the 17th row of Section 106 inside Williams Arena Saturday.

That streak could come to an end next winter, as Tom and his wife, Carol, deal with the donations that the athletic department will demand from ticket-holders starting with the 2012-13 season.

The cost for these two seats for the Pierces this season was $1,300. "To keep our tickets, we've been told we have to donate $400 per ticket," Tom said. "And that doesn't mean we can stay in these good seats. They are going to move us."

Tom and his father, Harmon, bought season tickets to Gophers basketball in 1947. Through some research, it was determined by the ticket office that the Pierces are No. 97 on the seniority list.

And now these excellent seats earned over 65 years of loyalty will be gone to a higher bidder in any case -- and the Pierce family will be gone from the season-ticket list if they decide against paying the extra $800.

"I don't know what we're going to do," Tom said. "We love the Gophers."

Carol proved that by leaping from her seat as Rodney Williams threw down a big-time dunk. The Pierces also show that love by making the drive from Outing, an outpost near Brainerd, to Williams Arena.

"I'm a full-time Santa Claus, so I can't make the preseason games in December," Tom said. "But we never miss a Big Ten game. We haven't won that many the last two years, but as long as we have good basketball, I'm happy. And we have that."

Tom Pierce -- with his full white beard -- really is a jolly old Santa if he has found good basketball in the past two winters inside The Barn.

On Saturday, the Gophers whipped woeful Nebraska 81-69 to finish 6-12 and in 10th place in a 12-team Big Ten. A year ago, the Gophers were 6-12 and finished ninth in an 11-team league.

The added team for this season was Nebraska, and Tubby Smith can thank the Cornhuskers for two victories -- much needed for a coach who has gone 7-20 in his conference over the past 13 months.

These failings have created such a demand for Tubbyball that a reporter heading to Williams Arena for the 11:30 a.m. tipoff was offered this information from a ticket merchant:

"See these two tickets with $45 face value? I just bought them from a guy for $5 total ... and I might not make a profit."

The athletic department has designated 8,000 seats as requiring a donation in order to maintain season tickets in 2012-13. There are three categories: an extra $400, $250 or $100, all per seat.

What's ridiculous about the timing of the forced donations is only 8,322 season tickets were sold to the public for 2011-12. There's such disinterest in Tubby's product that it's close to Monson-esque.

Saturday, I finished talking to the Pierces, and then heard from other people in that prime viewing area who were more definite in saying they planned to bail out rather than pay next season's ransom.

Near the top of the first deck, in an area where you had to scrunch to see the far basket and needed an auxiliary mini-scoreboard to check the score, Bill Schulte of Gaylord was alternating between trying to watch the game and chasing down a pair of young sons.

Schulte bought two season tickets in 1994, and moved to this lower-deck corner in 1999.

"They want a donation of $250 apiece for these seats, and I'm looking around a beam," Schulte said. "With the basketball we've seen the last couple of years, and now with a forced donation ... it's not a tough decision. I'm done.

"That's why I brought both of the boys today: to be at our last game with season tickets."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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