This spring, as Old Dominion University undertakes the painful process of reassigning most of the 14,134 seats purchased through football season tickets, a free-for-all of sorts has ensued.
As the team won 38 of its first 48 games and became the nation's winningest startup program, the demand for tickets skyrocketed. Foreman Field's 20,088 seats have been filled for all 29 home games, and the season-ticket waiting list more than doubled in the last year to 4,500.
Most on the list were told it would be years, perhaps not until the stadium is expanded, before they would get tickets. Not anymore.
Those on the waiting list probably will be able to purchase tickets for 2013 - if they contribute enough to the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation, the school's athletic fundraising arm. Members will receive priority over those who don't join the foundation, officials said.
The process could leave some who have held season tickets all four years - but who don't contribute to the foundation - without seats, officials say. Nearly 2,800 of the season tickets are held by those who don't contribute.
Monday is the deadline for fans to pay for season tickets or make down payments, and to donate to the foundation. Membership requires a minimum donation of $100. Season tickets are $163 apiece.
Buyers will select their seats based on a point system and seven criteria, including how long they've owned season tickets, how many they purchase and how much they contribute to the foundation. The more points, the earlier your appointment to pick your seats.
However, it's likely that many who want tickets won't get them. Four years ago, before ODU played a single game, 1,064 ticket applications went unfilled.
"I would expect we're going to be in the same situation," said Mark Benson, the senior associate athletic director who heads the athletic foundation.
"We don't know how many are going to choose to donate, how many will increase their donations, until our deadline," he said. "Basically, it's a clean slate for everyone to choose season tickets."
The process will leave few fans sitting in their old seats. Even those who give $1,000 or more could be moved if others earn more points.
The process happens every four years in football and men's basketball. Basketball has been through it twice. Benson said many football season-ticket holders also have basketball season tickets. They "know what's involved and understand the system," he said.
ODU's financial needs changed when it started football, then changed again last May when it announced plans to leave the Football Championship Subdivision - the NCAA's second-highest level - for the Football Bowl Subdivision. ODU will join Conference USA and compete in the same classification with Virginia Tech and Virginia.
The school's athletic budget will grow by about $3 million per year, with increased football and basketball TV revenue - about $1.5 million per year - expected to help offset the increase. The foundation has pledged to meet $1 million per year of the new costs.
"There are some schools where you have to be a member of the foundation to have season tickets," Benson said. "There are other schools where you have to give a dollar amount to ensure your location. We chose not to go with that system because we wanted to be fair to our fans."
Revisiting the seating is part of the painful process of moving up to big-time football, said ODU season-ticket holder Larry Eakin, a retired schoolteacher in Virginia Beach. He and his wife, Carolyn, a director of technology at ODU, give $1,000 annually to ODAF and have seats on the 30-yard line.
Eakin fears that as many foundation members boost their contributions, they will wind up in less attractive seats.
"I'm worried about how far we might fall the down list," he said. "But I realize this is the reality of college athletics.
"... We've got to pay for a stadium expansion, a new practice facility. Ideally, the system would reward fan loyalty above everything else. But loyalty won't build an indoor practice facility."
Dan and Michelle Malana of Virginia Beach have had basketball season tickets for eight years and football season tickets for four. "Everything that we can afford to spend goes into our tickets," Michelle Malana said. "We can't afford to join the athletic foundation. It really hurts to think that we might not get season tickets."
Athletic Director Wood Selig says he's sympathetic.
"I feel terrible when those situations occur," he said. "At the same time, I'm trying to balance a budget and put a product on the field that all of Hampton Roads and the state of Virginia can feel proud about."
ODU is studying how best to expand Foreman Field, as part of an overhaul of the university's campus master plan. That study won't be complete until the middle of summer at the earliest. It seems unlikely that the facility will be expanded in the next three years.
In 2015, North Carolina State comes to ODU, a game that likely will increase the demand for season tickets.
"It's an unfortunate reality that right now, we don't have enough seats to meet ticket demand," Selig said.
In preparation for the new seating process, Benson and his staff met with 700 of the 3,104 season-ticket-holders, mailed 8,500 brochures and held three town hall meetings at the Constant Center, including last Wednesday. The athletic foundation's website explains the ticketing process, and there's an internal site for members that includes a calculator to see how they stack up.
When Michelle Malana voiced criticism of the point system at a town hall meeting, several fans urged her to join the foundation. "All it takes is $100," said Joel Hanssen of Norfolk.
Even with a $100 donation factored into the price, ODU's tickets - $426 for two, with parking included - remain cheaper than most of its future opponents.
Two season tickets at Virginia Tech go for $600 per seat. Parking adds $15 per game.
The University of Virginia charges $176 to $345 for season tickets.
ODU's athletic foundation has a more blue-collar look than the foundations at U.Va. and Tech, Benson said. Of its 2,800 members, 1,050 contribute $100 or less. Another 741 give $500 or less. Only 30 give $25,000 or more. ODU included in its brochures a pie chart on season ticket reorder forms, listing donors by amount given.
"We wanted to put to rest the impression that this is about big givers," Benson said. "This is about the people who give $100 or $300."
Benson fielded angry phone calls four years ago when not everyone who wanted tickets got them. He expects the same in May.
Malana may not be among those who complain. She was approached by two fans after last Wednesday's meeting who offered to allow her to purchase tickets under their names, a practice that, while not encouraged, is allowed, Benson said.
"I didn't go to the meeting expecting that," she said. "I went there to express how the little people felt. It was incredibly kind."
She said she and her husband haven't decided what to do.
"I'm not angry at ODU," she said. "I realize this is the way it's done everywhere else. I'm just disappointed that we might not get tickets....
"Do I want to go to the games? Yes, I really do."
Harry Minium, 757-446-2371, firstname.lastname@example.org