Two Alabama universities face criticism for selling football tickets to state legislators and other public officials at face value, making it difficult for other fans to find tickets. The University of Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn University Tigers are popular rivals and tickets are in high demand for both teams. Jim Metrock, a Birmingham resident who successfully lobbied for ethics reform in 2011, petitioned the University of Alabama and Auburn University with public records requests. Metrock demanded that the universities turn over the names of individuals who received access to tickets at face-value prices, often before the tickets were made available to the general public.
Both universities complied with Metrock’s request. The University of Alabama provided 73 tickets to legislators. Seventy received 207 tickets from UA to the BCS National Championship Game. Auburn University gave 240 individual tickets to 38 public officials and 179 season tickets to 90 officials.
Metrock believes that public officials are using their status to procure special favors. According to Metrock, officials tell universities “I vote on your school’s appropriations. I want to go to the head of the line for tickets, past students, faculty members and scholarship donors. I need tickets and I don’t want to pay what my neighbors are paying.”
Some university and state officials disagree with Metrock’s conclusion. The University of Alabama defends its practice, stating that the school is compliant with state ethics laws. Focusing on only two universities ignores a more widespread issue, argues state Rep. John Merrill. “Let me tell you what the problem is,” Merrill told Tuscaloosa News.”You’re only talking about Auburn and UA. But you’re not talking about Troy or Jacksonville State or the University of West Alabama or the community colleges and high schools in this state who all offer passes and season tickets to officials as well.”
Providing local and state politicians with free football tickets was a common practice before Metrock petitioned for reform last year. In November 2011, Alabama’s legislature passed a law requiring officials to pay at least face value for their tickets, a provision Metrock now argues is not enough.
The University of Alabama’s director of media relations, Cathy Andreen, described UA’s new policies regarding ticket sales in a November 2011 Associated Pressarticle. Before the start of the football season, legislators would submit a ticket request form. Only “upon request” would the university provide access to football tickets.
Unfair access rather than price fluctuations is Metrock’s real concern. As Alabama Live reports, “It’s the access, not so much whether they’re free or whether they pay something,” said Metrock. “Students, or parents who want to take their children to the game, they don’t have that access” that legislators enjoy, he added.
One state representative donated last season’s tickets to local schools. In August 2011, Jasper representative Bill Roberts gave UA and Auburn University tickets to every principal in his district. According to The Daily Mountain Eagle, Jasper’s daily newspaper, Roberts stated that “the principals will decide how the tickets are sold and what group they will benefit.” For Roberts, a football ticket served as a means to raise money for schools rather than a personal perk for public service.