- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

George Mason University students have been skipping class and standing in line for hours this week to get their hands on NCAA Final Four T-shirts and other Patriots merchandise.

The line at the campus bookstore spilled out into the adjoining food court, with waits of up to an hour-and-a-half. In the food court, students watched a replay of the men’s basketball team’s 86-84 overtime victory over the University of Connecticut Saturday.

“The wraparound is for the Final Four [T-shirts], the ones that say George Mason,” said Carri Vitello, the textbook manager at the GMU Bookstore. “When [the shirts] finally came in, people were clapping.

“People are beside themselves,” she said. “This is so new for us.”

With the Patriots in the NCAA Final Four for the first time and school spirit at an all-time high, George Mason apparel is flying off the shelves both on and off campus.

“George Mason has had a difficult time getting retailers to sell their product in the past couple years,” said Aaron Coldren, a university sales representative for the Collegiate Licensing Corp. who works with George Mason. That is likely to change in light of the basketball team’s success.

Despite efforts in the fall to expand merchandising across the country, the school generally struggled to convince retailers to sell their products. Now, Mr. Coldren predicts retailers will be much more willing to do so.

About 90 companies are licensed to manufacture George Mason merchandise, according to Mr. Coldren, and the number is expected to increase significantly.

Some Wal-Mart stores sell George Mason merchandise, including those in Fairfax and Burke. The Wal-Mart in Fairfax has had no trouble selling the George Mason shirts that arrived Wednesday.

“We sold a few hundred of those since last night,” store manager Lee Lowe said yesterday. He is expecting the Final Four T-shirts to arrive today.

The Burke store sells generic George Mason shirts year-round, but has posted an increase in sales. Michael Johnson, the store manager, anticipates having Final Four T-shirts by today and plans to sell an expanded line of Mason apparel in the future.

“A lot of our customers have asked to try and run a line of their products for George Mason all year-round,” Mr. Johnson said.

On Wednesday, George Mason opened its online store at Gomason.com, in affiliation with CSTV, a college sports media company. The site sells all types of George Mason paraphernalia — from hats to golf balls.

Despite making the Final Four of the Women’s NCAA tournament, the University of Maryland has not experienced any rush for university apparel.

On campus, George Mason students were happy to stand in line for Final Four shirts as well as other school merchandise.

“Everyone is rooting for Mason,” said Peter Suh, a George Mason senior. “I don’t think people are minding the wait.”

George Mason freshman Brandon Spottswood agreed.

“It’s not even about [the apparel],” he said. “It’s about having that feeling for your school and wanting to show it.”

Sami Engle, a freshman, stood in line both Tuesday and Wednesday to buy T-shirts and other GMU merchandise before the Patriots’ game against the University of Florida Saturday night. Her mother, a George Mason alumnus, is hosting a family party to watch the game.

“I’ve always had Mason T-shirts,” Miss Engle said. “Now I have five. I’ve been wearing them every day.”

With “anything that says George Mason” selling as fast as the bookstore can order it, Ms. Vitello plans to continue stocking T-shirts and other merchandise. “We’ll keep selling it as long as the demand is still there.”

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