Gordon Monson: Wanna gamble? Entrance into the Big 12 is causing BYU and its fans some severe ‘growing pains’

Cougar fans are being asked to donate more to improve their chances of getting basketball season tickets — but there are no guarantees.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougar fans try to distract Nicholls State Colonels forward Marek Nelson (0) as he shoots a free throw, in basketball action between the Nicholls State Colonels and the Brigham Young Cougars, at the Marriott Center in Provo, on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.

BYU has a problem.

The school is asking its fans — at least it can be interpreted that way without much stretch — to do something The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discourages its members from doing.

Gamble. Roll the dice.

Come on, baby, Momma needs a new pair of shoes.

Only Momma might want something even more — season tickets at BYU basketball games.

“We’re shaking up the format,” said Jon McBride, a largely reasonable man who also happens to be BYU’s associate athletics director. And some BYU fans are all shook up over the shaking.

With membership in the Big 12 rapidly approaching, BYU is suffering through what McBride called “growing pains.” In that approach, the school is asking fans who want season tickets at the Marriott Center for the coming basketball season to take a chance on donating more money in the hope of increasing their odds of getting those tickets.

Here’s the thing: Fans can jack up their donations, until it hurts for them personally, but there are no guarantees that they’ll get their desired seats or any seats at all.

Those fans have to hope for the best, just like they would if they were eagerly anticipating the deal of the right card at a blackjack table in Vegas.

As was the case in the earlier chase for football season tickets, where some longtime loyal fans got shoved out of their old seats and placed elsewhere in the stadium, in basketball, there’s a cap on the number of season tickets that will be sold. That limit will be much smaller at the Marriott Center because obviously there are not as many seats available from the start. And with the Big 12 being a top college basketball league, there appears to be a lot of interest from fans in the search for tickets.

In football, according to school officials, all Cougar Club members who wanted season tickets got their shot at them, as mentioned some in a less desirable location. While basketball will also displace fans from their former seats, everyone — including Cougar Clubbers and others — is uncertain whether some fans will get shutout completely.

If they do get shutout from season tickets, Cougar administrators are hoping to show them love — or at least hand them a few biscuits — in some other way.

This is how the process is working: BYU is formulating a plan where “priority points” are awarded to fans based on a combo equation that includes past loyalty in buying tickets and, more importantly, the amount of money they donate. The more they donate, the better their shot. Those fans with the most priority points will get first and preferred choice on seating and it will trickle down — or up the arena rows — from there. There is an outlier in a relative small group of what BYU calls “facility donors” who were promised certain seats as a part of their donations many years ago. That promise extended to two generations of donors.

Some fans are royally blue over what’s happening, unable to afford gifts to the school and uncertain that even if they scratch up more cash that it will actually result in what they seek — decent seats or any kind of seats at the games.

But they’re being asked at present to consider those odds and go ahead and gamble the night — and their money — away.

To reiterate, one of the reasons the school is asking fans to do this is administrators are not sure, not with any exactness, what the ticket landscape will look like. “We can’t determine the threshold of what the number will be,” McBride said. If they have a best guess, they’re not stating it publicly. They still haven’t said what the total season-ticket allotment was for football. McBride only offered that the number was “big.”

Informing people, if they do stack up considerable priority points, precisely where their seats could be remains a crapshoot.

“If you are a legacy Cougar Club member, we can’t even guarantee that you’ll get lower-bowl tickets,” McBride said.

What he didn’t say was that all the fog might drive people who want better chances to get those lower-bowl seats to up their donation totals.

“We’ll tell people what it’s looking like as we go,” said McBride. “We’re trying to be as transparent as we can be.”

He said it one more time: “We’re not guaranteeing anything.”

Other than that money gifted could, he said, “increase your chances.”

While football donors all got their shot at seats somewhere in the stadium, McBride said, “We’re not as confident that will happen [for basketball].”

One thing is for sure, and McBride said it: Some people will be priced out.

That’s the current reality at BYU, and it’s the reality across a wide swath of programs competing in modern major college sports. It takes money to win, and schools are willing to prioritize that money and hand privilege and advantage to those who give it to institutions, especially to those who give lots of it.

Them’s the cold, hard facts of life.

They say money can’t buy happiness. But it can better your shot at a better seat — at BYU and just about everywhere else.

It’s just that that’s jangled the feelings of some folks at and around BYU, where the Cougar faithful are being asked for more money with no real assurances that a tangible reward will be a part of the transaction.

It might not work that way in heaven, where rewards for obedience and sacrifice and faithfulness, according to LDS Church teachings, are more automatic. But BYU fans aren’t in heaven. They’re in Provo. They’re in the Big 12.

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