- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

The frenzy over tickets to the Battle of the Beltway last week proved to be a mere warm-up to the rush to Maryland's first Final Four.

Maryland fans yesterday snapped up nearly all of the 4,500 Final Four tickets allotted to the school and scrambled to arrange travel this weekend to Minneapolis, site of the event.

"It's been an absolute madhouse. When we started at 8 a.m., we had long lines at both the general ticket office and the Terrapin Club office waiting for us," said Andrew Plenn, Terrapin Club executive director. "The Georgetown game [last week] was great, but it doesn't compare to this. We've broken through finally, and the fans are responding."

Of the 4,500 tickets Maryland and every other Final Four team receives, about 3,000 will go to members of the Terrapin Club, which funds athletic scholarships. Students will receive 450 tickets, and the rest will be held for team and university officials, band members and other internal uses.

More than 100 students camped out overnight to make sure they bought Final Four tickets. But by late yesterday, tickets in the student allotment remained available, largely because tickets cost $140 or $160 each and hotel and airfare push a trip's minimum cost beyond $1,000 out of reach for most college students.

"It's been nuts around here, but there are still some tickets available to students and Terrapin Club members. We'll probably carry over into tomorrow," said Wendy Brown, Maryland's director of ticket operations, late yesterday.

Thanks to Maryland's entry to the Final Four, top prices among local brokers in the secondary market soared from $7,500 to $10,000. Most broker sales, however, have been for seats costing between $750 and $2,000. Each ticket is good for all three Final Four games.

"It's been very, very busy. This is right up there in interest with the Ravens and the Super Bowl, but there is less time before the game, so people are definitely feeling the urgency," said Danny Matta, president of Great Seats, a College Park brokerage. "We'll be selling all week, right up until the game."

Because of those soaring prices, some Terrapin Club members were choosing the potentially cheaper option of simply raising their club donation. Members donating at least $5,000 are guaranteed four tickets, and those donating at least $2,000 are guaranteed two tickets.

For donations below that, members are ranked on a point system that combines money donated with longevity within the group. The highest point totals predictably receive the first opportunity to buy remaining tickets.

"We've had plenty of existing members donating more money to make sure they're guaranteed Final Four seats," Mr. Plenn said.

The Terrapin Club also brought in two travel agents yesterday to its offices to handle travel orders, something it did not do for the previous two weeks of the tournament. And the club's Olney-based travel agent, Sports Travel International, opened Sunday to begin taking travel orders. Plane fares to Minneapolis varied yesterday from $500 to $1,400, depending on when people wished to depart and return.

"It's such a contrast from last week," said Kenneth DeMatteo, STI vice president. "It's been heavy, heavy bookings all day. We'll probably fill at least 850 [hotel] rooms."

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