Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Suit and the Sacred Seat(s)

The University of Tennessee's 100,000-seat Neyland Stadium

A few years ago, the Carolina Panthers invented the "seat license," meaning that in order to buy a season ticket for their games, you had to pay a "license" fee. Some called it extortion. They were right. College football has adopted the practice at the more successful programs. License fees can far exceed the season ticket price and if you're looking at a sky box, you're thinking in terms of major corporate expansion.

Now comes word (via the Knoxville News-Sentinel) from the University of Tennessee of a Nashville lawyer--and lifelong UT supporter--who's had enough. His daddy, Big Bill Luck, built the upper deck in 1961 and his pal, legendary Tennessee coach Gen. Robert Neyland (for whom the whole 100,000-seat facility is named), gave Big Bill the two best seats in the house: front row, 50-yard-line, upper deck. I've sat a few rows back of that and I can attest to the view.

Neyland told the university, the state, the population of Tennessee and anybody else who'd listen that he wanted Big Bill to have those seats for life and for his progeny to share the same distinction. That meant that in 2002, when Big Bill died, his eldest male child, Thomas, inherited the pair of seats. All was well until the university decided recently that those seats were a gold mine.

UT wants Thomas to move to the other side of the stadium, pay $6,000 for the right to buy season tickets and pay full face value for the tickets ($360 each for eight games). Thomas says no (actually, "hell, no" would be closer) and has sued. The university says people can't sue the government and UT is the government. Part of it, anyway.

Fact is, this is one UT can't win, even if it gets a favorable ruling in court. College football fans are traditionalists and what is more traditional than a family's seats?

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