- - Saturday, December 10, 2011

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A big-time bowl is also a big-time financial obligation, something Virginia fans are learning.

The Cavaliers’ trip to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 will be their highest profile postseason appearance in more than two decades. With that comes the pressure to justify the selection by selling tickets priced at $80.

Part of the agreement between U.Va. and the bowl is the purchase of 18,000 tickets, which the school then sells to its fans. As of Saturday, 13,213 of those tickets had been sold, according to the U.Va. ticket office.

“I anticipate that every one of the 18,000 will be sold,” athletics director Craig Littlepage said. “We will definitely take seriously the challenge we have, in terms of getting our people there and putting on a great show on the field.”

Coach Mike London spoke of the “domino effect” that fan turnout would have, mentioning that future bowls would be looking at what kind of attendance the Cavs get in Atlanta.

Both Virginia and its opponent, Auburn, wear the same colors, but the bowl has asked fans to show up wearing the same color the players will don — blue for the Tigers, orange for the ‘Hoos.

Bowl president Gary Stokan said Friday that Auburn was on the verge of selling out its allotment, though the Tigers only received 16,000 tickets. General admission tickets are sold out.

The problem for the schools is that the tickets they receive include just a handful of good seats, but mostly consist of undesirable locations. More than 8,000 of U.Va.’s tickets are in the upper level end zone.

That, combined with tickets being sold at midfield as low as $40 through internet sites, leads many fans to shop elsewhere for their seats.

U.Va. remains on the hook for every ticket not sold, a lesson that its in-state rival, Virginia Tech, knows all too well.

In recent years, the Hokies haven’t come close to selling out their Orange Bowl allotments, and as of Friday had sold 9,200 of their 17,500-seat requirement for the Sugar Bowl. The fans still come, they just know to look elsewhere for better seats that cost less.

(The ACC has historically helped out Virginia Tech on a portion of its financial losses from unsold BCS tickets.)

Littlepage has worked to get out in front of the problem with an e-mail message to everyone on the department’s fan mailing list earlier this week.

With the headline “Virginia Football Needs Your Help,” it included a video message from London.

“It’s important that our players, our recruits, and the national spotlight that is placed upon the University of Virginia is shown by seeing a supportive fan base,” the coach said in the video.

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