Basketball fans hit the road for Sweet Sixteen in Salt Lake City
When you are a true college basketball fan, a little thing like a 1,500-mile drive won't stop you from seeing your team play in the Sweet 16.
Neither will camping in a tent in the middle of a city when temperatures dip near freezing. Or spending 10 days on the road with your team in strange towns -- it's all part of the fun.
Such is the case with many of the Butler, Kansas State, Syracuse and Xavier supporters who began to converge Wednesday on Salt Lake City to watch their teams play Sweet 16 NCAA basketball tournament games at EnergySolutions Arena.
Getting to Utah has not been particularly easy. The schools are anywhere from 1,010 to 2,061 miles away. In fact, they struggled to sell their ticket allotments, leaving about 2,500 available tickets for today's games, in which Butler plays top-seed Syracuse and Xavier battles second-seeded Kansas State.
Lindsay Martin, a 2005 Butler graduate who now works in sports marketing for the Indianapolis-based school, certainly wasn't discouraged. She joined her mother, Susie, and her sister, Whitney, a Butler sophomore, on a 1,517-mile road trip to Salt Lake City. She also followed the Bulldogs to Albany, N.Y., in 2003; to Birmingham, Ala., in 2008, and to Greensboro, N.C., last year.
"We're quite the vacationing and road tripping family," she said while driving somewhere near Rock Springs, Wyo. "We have family in California and we drive there from central Illinois. I've actually driven back from Salt Lake to Illinois so I knew it was doable. The flights were pretty expensive, so this was a less expensive and more fun option."
Rebecca Davis, a Butler student, couldn't get away from school until after attending class Wednesday. Driving with her dad, Jess, the pair had only made it to Iowa by early afternoon.
"It's not just a basketball game, it's a Butler basketball game," she said. "It's my senior year and I wanted to do something with my dad. I'd like to see us go further. The Sweet 16 is not far enough."
If Butler were to win two games here, the school would be playing in the Final Four a few miles from campus in Indianapolis.
Kansas State fan Alex Fulkerson just happened to be vacationing at Zion National Park when he heard the Wildcats earned a trip to Salt Lake City. So he drove north and camped in his tent at a KOA on North Temple, not far from EnergySolutions Arena.
"I don't have much of a budget," he said. "I did run into a lot of BYU fans [K-State knocked the Utah team out of the tournament in the second round]. I was worried about that second-round game."
It's hard to believe that any Syracuse fans would be happy making the 2,061-mile trip from New York to Salt Lake City, but John View and his wife, Lorraine Schunck, were ecstatic when they watched selection Sunday and the Orange were sent West. Their son, Sean View, works at Westminster College. When he visited New York for Christmas, the family talked about how great it would be if their team played in Salt Lake City.
Few fans have gone quite as long between Sweet 16 games as Butler fan Jack Krebs. Though on the team, he didn't make the traveling squad for the Bulldogs' 1962 Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky with star Cotton Nash and legendary coach Adolph Rupp. But he was on the team plane to San Jose for the sub-regionals. And now he is in Salt Lake City for this game with his wife, Betty.
Talk about a basketball fan. Krebs knew Bobby Plump, who hit the winning shot when tiny Milan, Ind., beat Muncie Central, the state's largest school, on a last-second shot. The moment was memorialized in the classic basketball movie "Hoosiers," which was filmed at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the 15,000-seat basketball shrine that serves as Butler's home court.
The fieldhouse is named after Krebs' football and basketball coach, Tony Hinkle, who was also the school's baseball coach and athletic director. Krebs said Hinkle, who retired in 1970, invented the orange basketball because the lights were so bad at the fieldhouse that the old brown balls were difficult to see.
As the four schools' fans stream into town for today's games, expect to see some craziness, strange mascots and colorful characters whose devotion to their schools knows few boundaries.
Getting a ticket to see NCAA regional games today and Saturday at Energy Solutions Arena should be relatively easy, as it turns out.
Largely because of the lone travel distances and short notice, schools participating in the games, which pit No. 5 Butler against No. 1 Syracuse at 5:07 p.m. and No. 6 Xavier against No. 2 Kansas State at 7:37 p.m., turned back over 2,000 mostly upper bowl tickets. Those became available for public sale.
Fans are required to buy $171 ticket packages, including fees for the two games today and Saturday's Elite Eight contest. Tickets are available online at smithtix.com or by calling 800-888-8499.
In addition, ticket brokers had lower bowl tickets available, ranging in price from $69 to $399.
"There are a lot of tickets in the upper level, but not in the lower bowl," said Tom Crase of Salt Lake City-based Tom's Tickets. "Bargain hunters will have their opportunities, I believe. It was pretty brutal."
Crase was selling lower bowl tickets for $175 per day.
-- Tom Wharton