- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

Cole Field House might exude the 1950s with its narrow seats, musty air and hangar-like interior. But the dollar signs surrounding tomorrow night's final basketball game at the 47-year-old building are anything but antiquated.

Secondary market prices for tickets to the Maryland-Virginia contest top out locally at more than $1,800 per seat for prime locations. Lesser seats start at $400, and university officials are planning a significant merchandising push for the finale.

No one in or around Maryland athletics can remember such intense interest in a regular-season game. But, of course, this is no ordinary regular-season game.

"This by far is the toughest ticket I've ever seen for a game at Cole, and I've been here six years," said Rob Mullens, associate athletic director for internal operations whose tenure in College Park roughly corresponds with the Terps' latest run as a national power. "We have been absolutely besieged with requests for tickets. There's not much we've been able to do, but it should be quite an evening."

The 14,500 seats were sold out months ago, and the 4,000 student tickets were allotted yesterday amid much controversy. A large group of students showed up at Cole two hours earlier than instructed Thursday to begin waiting. Seeking to avoid the kind of dangerous crush seen before last month's Duke game, campus police allowed the students inside Cole to begin forming a line. The change in policy effectively shut out another large group of students who showed up as instructed.

"It wasn't an ideal situation. It became a safety issue, and that was the call they made," Mullens said.

Face value for single-game tickets, when available, is $29. But they're almost never available, and the waiting list for season tickets, handled through the Terrapin Club, exceeds 3,000. Combine that with Maryland's No.2 national ranking, its first outright ACC regular-season title since 1980 and the final game in the beloved old building, and it's a recipe for unprecedented demand.

"Right now you can get an entire book [of tickets] for the ACC tournament for what this game is going for," said Karl Roes, president of StagefrontTickets.com, a Laurel brokerage. "That's how big this game is."

Meanwhile, university officials are hurriedly ordering apparel commemorating both the closing of Cole and the Terps' conference title to have in time for tomorrow.

"We have something that hasn't happened in 20 years and the end of a 47-year-old facility," said Stan Lohman, general manager of the university bookstore. "Obviously, we're dealing with some unique situations."

The game is also expected to jump start sales of pieces of the Cole floor. Joe Harrington, a former assistant coach and teammate of current head coach Gary Williams, is leading a joint venture with the university to carve up the floor, in use since Cole's 1955 opening. Prices start at $60 per square foot; commemorative plaques with smaller pieces cost from $95 to $275. Harrington has received orders for less than half the floor to date. Maryland will begin ripping up the floor in September, when it expects to take occupancy in the new Comcast Center.

"This is a truly immense project that is just starting. We're talking about [nearly 5,000 square feet]," said Harrington, who reserved the Web address www.colefieldhouse.com more than a year ago for the sales effort. "But we've received a lot of calls from restaurants, former players, businesses and the like interested in larger pieces. It's a true chunk of local history we're talking about."

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