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Saturday night, Penn Athletics tried something new. St. Joe's was coming to the Palestra - and they brought everybody.

Busloads of fans showed up more than an hour early, screaming and cheering before the players even warmed up. But Penn was there, too, screaming and cheering right back.

This Duke vs. UNC-like atmosphere was created by a simple change - Penn Athletics made the student section general admission. Seats were first come, first served for any student, regardless of his season-ticket-holder status. "We figured it would give an extra incentive for students to get there early," said Penn Athletics' Marketing Chief Brian Head.

What a great idea, and it worked. Rather than coming at 7:00, or 7:10 or 7:20, as many do, droves of students showed up well before tip-off to get good seats. The Palestra was primed up, just like Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham.

Before you say "Well, they should make all games general admission," hold on.

The majority of students who go to games buy season tickets. And to get the best seats for the season, they do the Line - a 24 hour camp-out down at the Palestra. Though I (stupidly) never did it, from what I hear, it's a helluva lot of fun and a great tradition.

Making every game general admission will destroy the Line because, without seat assignments, it ceases to have a purpose. You don't want to destroy one tradition just to institute another.

So ideally, Athletics needs to duplicate the atmosphere of last Saturday without ending the Line.


If Penn Athletics is serious about building a more intense atmosphere, then next season for the Big 5, Princeton and UNC, they should institute general-admission student seating - furthermore, it should be free general admission student seating.

Here's why:

1) Every basketball game is not important to most students. Few will show up an hour and a half early for Monmouth, if they show up at all (especially those without season tickets).

However, some games are perennial favorites. The Big 5 and Princeton always draw near sellouts, and UNC certainly will do the same. There will be enough interest, enough excitement surrounding those games to make coming early fun. Lots of students will show up and it will become a tradition overnight.

2) Many (like myself) who don't get season tickets will be more likely to come to those games if they can sit with their friends (rather than in some lonely corner by themselves). If I want to go to a game now, I can't sit with my roommates because they already have assigned seats.

3) Free student tickets for those games (like every Duke game) will bring even more fans. This is not about the money - tickets are already under ten dollars. This is about a message. "Free tickets for students," says "We need your help tonight, please come." At Duke, home to some of college basketball's most dedicated fans, all student tickets are free.

The first change has few negatives. Because there are 15 home games, making three or four of them general admission shouldn't destroy the Line. There will still be 12 other games with assigned seats, so doing the Line would be worthwhile.

Granted, if you have first row seats right now, you're not gonna like the idea of losing them for the best games of the year. But this is for the common good, and it's pretty selfish to say "Me keeping my seat is more important than getting everyone down to the Palestra."

Free tickets would cost something. That change could mean $9,000 in lost revenue each game (1,500 reserved students seats times $6 a seat). But, assuming it's a sellout, adding only $1.50 onto the other 6,500 seats would compensate. Then again, you don't want to screw the other team's students. So if we say 5,000 non-student seats, you have to raise the price $2.00.

Given that most of those affected would be alumni, I think they'd make that sacrifice if it meant more students would come and get into the game.

Though changes haven't been talked about yet, Head told me that Saturday's success made an impression, and Penn Athletics will be discussing various proposals soon.

Though Penn's never going to be Duke, it would be fun to feel like it was once in a while.

Alex Weinstein is a College senior from Bridgeport, W.Va. His e-mail address is Straight to Hell appears on Thursdays.

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