Visit from Hoop Champs a Hot Ticket for January

Visit from Hoop Champs a Hot Ticket for January

By Reid Oslin
Staff Writer

The rare New England appearance of the No. 1-ranked Duke University basketball team against the Boston College Eagles at Conte Forum last Thursday night was a dream match-up for college hoop fans, but a nightmare for those seeking tickets to attend the eagerly awaited contest.

Even though the Eagles ultimately came up short, 88-78, against the defending national champions, there was unprecedented fan interest and ticket demand for the game, according to Boston College Athletic Association officials.

Jim O'Neill, associate athletic director for ticket operations for the past 13 years, said that the BC-Duke game "was the toughest ticket we have ever had to deal with. Only the 'Frozen Four' national hockey championship games at the Fleet Center [1998] and in Providence [2000] were even close to it in terms of ticket demand.

"Even though we have sold out Conte Forum [capacity 8,606] for basketball on a season basis, and we didn't have any individual tickets to sell, we still got thousands of requests for tickets to the game," O'Neill said. "It was unbelievable.

"I wish we could have figured out some way to raise the bubble over Alumni Stadium, because we probably could have sold that out for this one," mused O'Neill. Alumni Stadium seats 44,500 for football.

Fan interest in the BC-Duke game was kindled more than two years ago when Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo announced the home-and-home hoop series with the Blue Devils.

DeFilippo said that the BC-Duke game developed out of a tradition shared by many national schools - including Boston College - of scheduling games in the home regions of as many of their players as possible. In this case, Duke was seeking to play in the Boston area, near the home of Blue Devils' senior forward Matt Christiansen, a Belmont native.

"When we heard Duke wanted to come up this way, we got on the phone and put together a home-and-home series," DeFilippo said. "Then our second call was to ESPN to see if there was any interest in televising it. ESPN agreed to put it on last year [won by Duke, 97-75 at Cameron Indoor Arena], but when we finished last season with 27 wins, they were all over it to get it on again this year."

ESPN sent popular college basketball announcer Dick Vitale to Chestnut Hill to call last Thursday's game, the first time the ebullient broadcaster had done a game from Conte Forum. BC students, many of whom had waited hours for the gates to open, greeted the energetic and talkative Vitale with a thunderous ovation as he walked through the student section before the game, posing for photos and exchanging "high-fives" with the maroon-and-gold bedecked fans.

"You want to play the best," noted DeFilippo, "and Duke is one of the very best in the country. There was a tremendous excitement on campus and in the community for this game.

"We are going to continue to play teams of this caliber," he said, noting that contract negotiations are currently underway with a number of other top-level hoop teams to make Conte Forum visits in future seasons. The Eagles have already hosted Michigan, Iowa State and Penn State in addition to the traditional fare of Big East Conference foes.

Playing such highly ranked teams does bring an unusual demand for tickets to see the contests in person, according to DeFilippo. "One day, a BC employee came over and left a home-baked pie outside my office door. There was a note on top of the pie that read:

'Roses are red,
Duke's colors are blue.
I want to buy two tickets so much,
I baked this apple pie for you.'"

Was the baker's request granted? "I better not say," laughed DeFilippo.


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