Cody Cousino/ Photo editor
NEW ORLEANS – Paying $25 for a student ticket to the Final Four probably seemed like a deal to students whose schools advanced to the last weekend of competition in men’s college basketball. But the riots that ensued when they arrived at the venue left some students shocked and others trampled.
Students from each of the four institutions competing in the 2012 Final Four arrived throughout the early morning Saturday to obtain their tickets for the Kentucky-Louisville and Ohio State-Kansas National Semifinal Games at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Erik Christianson, director of public and media relations for the NCAA, said students entered the garage area for the Superdome about 16 hours before any game was scheduled to start.
“In an effort to secure floor seats from a general admission pool of student tickets, a crowd of approximately 500 students crossed barricades and entered a garage area at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome without proper authorization at approximately 12:30 a.m. on Saturday,” Christianson said in an email.
Although instructed to begin forming lines at about 10 a.m., students attempted to line up early to secure highly coveted floor seats.
“The students were instructed by their respective schools and the NCAA to arrive at the garage at 10 a.m.,” Christianson said in an email. “While they were being removed in an orderly manner, some students rushed back into the garage and remained there against the orders of security staff.”
Several students said the day-of-game ticketing process was a “riot” that morning, adding that people were trampled and pushed over while grappling for position in line.
Jon Hicks, a second-year in human development and family services at OSU, attempted to position himself for a lower level ticket and arrived in line at about 7:30 a.m.
Hicks was one of 710 OSU students to buy a $25 ticket and was trying to sit on the floor rather than in the upper bowl of the stadium, where half his peers would be located. He said a riot broke out shortly after his arrival when security guards told OSU, Kansas, Louisville and Kentucky students to leave the arena.
“Some cop came in and said, ‘You all have to leave,'” Hicks said. “We all went outside. We were there for five minutes. They said, ‘Go back in,’ and we went right back inside. A couple Kentucky girls got knocked over. It was bad. It was pretty intense.”
Ricky Voigt, a second-year in human resources at OSU, said hundreds of people began running around in the Superdome parking garage where the four groups of students waited for tickets.
Voigt said it was the closest he’s ever been to being in a riot situation, and likened the scene to that of a rock concert.
“People were jumping over barriers, climbing up the parking garage. Just running and screaming,” Voigt said. “There was really no security or personnel from the Superdome facilitating anything. It was sort of self-governed by the students.”
Voigt said he did not see any students injured. However Nick Nachbar, a first-year in microbiology at Kansas said he saw several female students trampled.
Nachbar, who described a process of waiting for hours for multiple wristbands in order to obtain access to Superdome floor seats, said people were pushed down and trampled in the rush to reposition after being told to leave the arena and then invited back inside.
Christianson said adjustments were being made to ensure a similar incident does not happen when Kentucky plays Kansas Monday evening.
“When the NCAA and facility staff arrived at 7 a.m., they adjusted the ticket distribution process to accommodate the students,” Christianson said. “The NCAA and facility staff has reviewed the incident and are taking measures with increased security for Monday’s game to ensure the safety of the students.”
Nachbar said he had never seen anything like the scene he saw Saturday morning.
“For the people in the middle trying to get up front, it was no-holds-bar,” Nachbar said. “Anything they had to do to get to the front of the line, they would do. It’s crazy.”