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Students Take USC to Task Over Tickets

September 20, 2006|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

In a Tuesday night meeting punctuated by bursts of shouting and hissing, USC students vented their anger at administrators over policy changes that resulted in a crush of bodies outside the Coliseum before Saturday's game against Nebraska.

The university had sold 12,000 spirit cards, which allow entrance to various sporting events, but reduced the number of student seats to 8,000.

More than 9,000 card-holders jammed the entrance to Gate 28, pushing and waiting hours to get in. There were reports of minor injuries and at least one arrest.

Athletic department officials announced Monday they would increase student seating to 8,600 or more, open the gate earlier and staff it with more security officers.

Still, about 300 students packed into a small campus auditorium Tuesday to ask for further changes.

"My name's Matt, I'm a junior and I'm a $47,000-a-year donor," said Matthew Barrett, who prefaced his comments with a reference to USC's annual tuition.

Last season, seats were allotted for about all of the 12,000 or so spirit cards sold. Athletic department officials said they reduced the seating because an average of 7,000 students were showing up for football games over the last few years.

Administrators said they discussed the change with student government last spring but students were not informed until last week.

"We didn't expect the crush that occurred," said Jose Eskenazi, associate athletic director.

Barrett and others complained about being pushed aside for the sake of profit.

The 4,000 seats taken away from students sold at a face value of $65 for the Nebraska game, Eskenazi said. That would have brought USC about $260,000 in revenue.

USC made additional money by shifting students into an end-zone section, freeing midfield seats for $25,000-a-year donors.

"If they're looking for someone to donate after I graduate, they can forget about that," said James Toghia, a 31-year-old doctorate student.

Kelly Scarborough, a 19-year-old sophomore, said she suffered an asthma attack while trapped in line and waited 25 minutes before paramedics arrived.

"I was getting smashed and I was basically terrified," she said.

Students asked for additional measures, such as allowing them to enter through other gates and giving refunds for anyone denied entry.

The student government has asked Athletic Director Mike Garrett to return their section to its previous size next season. In the meantime, administrators offered an apology.

Lori White, associate vice president of student affairs, told the meeting: "I know it was not a good situation."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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