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Wisconsin Faithful Still Have Thorn in Their Side

Rose Bowl: The ticket scandal of '94 has led to noteworthy changes, but bad feelings and mistrust linger.


It was the year 60,000 Wisconsin fans followed their team to its first Rose Bowl in decades. The year they started a run on tickets unlike anything Pasadena had ever seen.

On New Year's Day 1994, the most desperate among them were paying scalpers $600 a seat. They bought thousands of tickets from UCLA fans willing to trade school loyalty for a quick profit. By game time, the stadium was awash in Wisconsin red.

But hundreds of Badger fans never got inside the Rose Bowl. Some didn't have enough cash, others were cheated out of their tickets by tour operators who got caught short in the mad scramble. They watched the game on television, either in a tent in the parking lot or in their hotel rooms.

Some of those fans later blamed UCLA for contributing to the frenzy. The university, which received twice as many tickets as Wisconsin, sold a block of seats to a booster, who resold them through a ticket broker, charging Badger fans as much as 10 times face value.

Now, with the teams scheduled to meet again Friday, emotions run close to the surface. UCLA administrators won't so much as comment on the events of 1994. Wisconsin people have plenty to say.

"It was a massive, joyous occasion that kind of got soured," said James E. Doyle, Wisconsin attorney general. "No doubt, there are still bad feelings."

As one fan put it: "An awful lot of people from Wisconsin got the royal shaft."

New Methods, Less Madness

Even if people want to forget, reminders keep popping up like bad memories.

Wisconsin authorities recently caught a Florida tour operator peddling Rose Bowl vacations over the Internet even though he had no tickets to the game. He was one of the operators who jilted customers five years ago.

Halfway across the country, UCLA quietly returned 6,300 unsold tickets to the Tournament of Roses, telling officials there wasn't enough interest among Bruin fans.

Yet, despite parallels to 1994, no one expects a repeat of what has been called "that ticket fiasco." Too much has changed.

The division of tickets between participating teams has grown more equitable. UCLA received 41,000 seats to Wisconsin's 21,000 in 1994. The split was about 32,000 to 26,000 this year. And of the 6,300 tickets UCLA returned, an unspecified number were passed along to Wisconsin.

"The inequity between the Pac-10 and the Big Ten has been a constant concern and a constant point of discussion," said Jack French, the Rose Bowl's chief executive officer. "But the Pac-10 has given up a lot of tickets since 1994, so we're closer to equity."

Federal and state legislators also have taken action, seeking to protect consumers who buy package deals for bowl games in distant cities.

Many of the tour operators who sold trips to the 1994 Rose Bowl did so before they actually had tickets. It was an accepted way of doing business: They expected to buy tickets from brokers once they arrived in Southern California and they expected to pay the rate from years past, about $150.

But when unexpected demand sent prices skyward, tour operators were caught in a bind. Some paid inflated ticket prices out of their own pockets. Others left fans empty-handed.

"We thought we had nine tickets but found out after Christmas we didn't have any," said Betty Elsesser, who came from Sussex, Wis., with family and friends. "We ended up buying them on the street."

They paid $1,100 for three tickets and $200 each for several more. Such stories prompted California legislators to pass a law that forces ticket sellers to disclose if they do not have the tickets at the time of sale. The U.S. Department of Transportation, meanwhile, expanded a federal regulation to require that air tour operators have tickets--or a written contract for tickets--before advertising travel packages.

Another important change occurred among Wisconsin fans. They grew wiser for their troubles.

The moment the Badgers clinched a berth in the 1999 Rose Bowl, administrators telephoned other Big Ten campuses offering to buy any tickets left over from the allotment of several hundred that goes to each nonparticipating team in the conference. They also designated two university-approved travel agents so fans would know where to turn.

"If anything has changed, hopefully we've become a little more savvy," said Vince Sweeney, a Wisconsin associate athletic director. "We were so trusting last time and so happy to be going to the Rose Bowl that we didn't ask the right questions."

Elsesser and her husband, Arthur, who were heading to Pasadena with nine others, know better than to believe a broker who promises to have tickets waiting for them when they arrive. They bought seats from a Badger fan who can't make the game.

"We learned," said Carol Kohler, Elsesser's sister who lives in La Verne, Calif. "This time we went any route or any avenue we could."

Hard Feelings Linger

Still, Doyle worries. He fumes. Like others, he holds a grudge.

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