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'It's unfair': Change to UNC-Duke student ticket policy upsets unlucky seniors

The UNC cheerleading team prepares to amp up fans at the Dean E. Smith Center before UNC basketball's home game against Michigan on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.

"Frustrated," "disappointed" and "betrayed" – some UNC seniors used choice words when describing their feelings after the results of the Duke ticket lottery came out on Feb. 28.

In past years, seniors could use their graduating status to get priority in the lottery for the biggest home game of the season – the men’s basketball game against Duke. Because 'senior status' can only be used once, many students waited to enter the lottery until their final year to take advantage of the opportunity.

However, before the 2022-2023 basketball season started, University of North Carolina Athletics introduced a new ticket policy that incentivized students to attend home games in order to get priority for tickets to the Duke game. Students were made aware of the new policy in a campus-wide email that was sent on Nov. 4, one week after less students attended an exhibition game against Johnson C. Smith than the athletics department expected.

In the end, the senior class was the group most affected by the new changes.

Last year, seniors received around 80 percent of the ticket allotment according to Clint Gwaltney, senior associate athletic director for operations. Under the new policy, half the ticket allotment went to students who attended the most home games, while two distinct lotteries for seniors and underclassmen each received 25 percent of the remaining tickets.

Students needed to attend four home games to get tickets to this year’s Duke game, Gwaltney said.

“You didn’t even have to win the lottery,” Gwaltney said. “If you walked down (to the Smith Center) for the first four games of the season, you could’ve secured your Duke ticket.”

Many seniors were under the impression that they would have the opportunity to attend a UNC-Duke game in their four years at North Carolina. Some seniors who didn’t receive a ticket said they felt like the athletic department cheated them. 

Seniors, like Harris Davis, said he and his peers have jobs and are taking full schedules and capstone classes, making it difficult for them to attend UNC home games.

“I feel betrayed, quite frankly,” Davis said. “We were guaranteed tickets as entering freshmen, and now we’re seniors and they’re changing the script on us. What gives?”

Some seniors who grew up watching UNC-Duke games on TV and dreamed about watching one in person as a student said they no longer have the opportunity to do so.

“Growing up a UNC fan, growing up in North Carolina, I would think about going to the Duke game,” senior Tristan Millsaps, who didn't receive a ticket, said. “It’s always been a cool thing about UNC that I’ve looked forward to, and this was the year that it was supposed to happen.”

While some were unlucky in the lottery, some more fortunate seniors capitalized on their status, such as Grace Pitney.

Despite winning a ticket, her thoughts on the policy remained the same as they did when the athletic department first announced the change.

“It was super unfair, because we’ve gone four years and were expecting that the lottery would go a certain way, and then it was ripped out of our hands,” Pitney said. “It’s unfair seeing everyone in the years before having the opportunity, and it was taken from us. I don’t understand why they changed the criteria. It just doesn’t make sense.”

As Pitney alluded, many of the tickets that previously were reserved for seniors went to non-seniors this year. This irked some students in the class of 2023, as they argued it wasn't right to give tickets to students who haven’t been at the University as long as them.

“At the end of the day, it’s unfair,” Pitney said.

Jennings Lin contributed reporting to this story.


@dthsports |

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