- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

To the victors, the spoils. So goes the saying.

What’s true in war is true in Washington political appointments — and patently false at the ACC tournament, where the spoils fall to any loser with a ticket.

Oops! Make that anybody with a losing team and a ticket.

Anybody got extra tickets for tomorrow?

Yeah, over here!

Down on the MCI Center floor, Maryland and Clemson are fighting for their NCAA tournament lives — or, in the Terrapins’ case, a likely NIT afterlife. Up in the arena mezzanine, the real sport is just getting started.

Buying and selling tournament tickets.

“It’s capitalism in action,” says Tony Prokop, 45, a schoolteacher and Maryland season ticket-holder from North Wilmington, Del. “Put up two fingers and they’ll come to you.”

Indeed. As disappointed Maryland fans stream out of the stands following the Terps’ 84-72 loss to the Tigers, fingers point to the ceiling. A boy in a Wake Forest jersey raises a single digit. A man in a North Carolina blue oxford flashes four.

Scalpers and sellers move through the crowd, tickets exposed like Janet Jackson’s nipple ring. The scene resembles a third-world bazaar — only instead of a village square, action coalesces around the Extreme Nachos stand.

Such is the law of the ACC tournament jungle. Bummed about your favorite team’s early exit? No sweat. Nothing a little scalping can’t salve.

“I promised to give my tickets to a friend who is a North Carolina fan,” says Steve Wah, 55, a Maryland fan from Westminster, Md. “But if we were down south, I’d be selling them.”

Wah is a heck of a friend. After all, he has a front-row seat for the rest of the tournament — same as last year, when he watched the Terps win the championship

“A ticket like that, you could get $150 for,” he says with a sigh. “Easy.”

Like alternate jerseys and personal seat licenses, scalping is an American sports staple, a perfect union of supply and demand. Just ask Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice (a former Maryland quarterback, by the way).

The equation is simple. Tournament tickets are hard to come by, and when a team like Maryland is dumped, the school’s fans can’t wait to sell. Meanwhile, fans of other schools are looking to buy.

Bingo! Think Charles and Camilla, only with wads of cash and better teeth.

Charlie, a scalper from the District, works his way along the stadium’s lower bowl.

“A lot of Maryland fans are upset,” he says, scanning for customers. “But that makes for a lot of tickets for North Carolina.”

On cue, a man in a Tar Heels hat approaches.

“What you got?” he asks.

Usually, scalping takes place on stadium side streets, out in the evening air. Not here. MCI Center teems with indoor action: $125 to $150 for a single ticket to today’s session, $400 to $700 for the weekend.

Cash and tickets change hands. Arena security turns a blind eye.

“Outside, I saw Metro police shoo people away,” says Prokop, who purchased tickets for himself and his son on the Internet. “They wrote one guy a ticket. Five yards away, there were people still buying and selling.”

Nearby, Eric Cheshire snaps up a pair of tournament ticket books for face value, $325 a pop. He considers himself lucky: Two days ago, ticket brokers were selling upper-deck books for $650.

With Terps tickets flooding the market, Maryland’s loss is Cheshire’s gain.

“It’s against the law, sure,” says Cheshire, 34, a construction salesman from Leesburg, Va. “But they never enforce it. I come down for [Washington] Wizards tickets all the time.”

As the tournament progresses, the ticket trade becomes more brazen. Larry Bowman, Clemson’s orthopedic team surgeon for 17 years, recalls buyers working the stands at Greensboro Coliseum.

“If your team is losing at the end of the game, there are people in the aisles,” Bowman says. “They’re trying to buy your tickets before the game is over.”

Should Clemson fall to favored North Carolina today, Bowman won’t sell his ticket. He plans to give it to his son. Others aren’t as charitable. Back on the mezzanine, a man in a Terrapins-red sweatshirt barters with a scalper.

How much do you want for those?

A blonde woman in a Maryland cap interrupts. “Excuse me,” she asks. “Are you selling?” The scalper cuts her off, flashes a stack of greenbacks. Done deal.

The man in the sweatshirt turns around. It’s Wah. He grins.

“I sold ‘em!” he says, laughing. “For tomorrow, 350 bucks. Told you. I’ve got my price.”

Wah’s windfall brings to mind another adage: never count your chickens before they’re hatched. Especially if a buddy promises you free tickets to the Carolina game.

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