On the Marc

No matter how something gets spun, people will always be drawn to the word “free.” If the thing they are getting is something of great significance, has a small amount of worth, or has absolutely no value whatsoever, people respond to getting something for nothing.

Last season, the St. John’s athletic department’s decision to make student tickets free for every men’s and women’s basketball game was lauded √¢?” and for good reason. Who wouldn’t want stuff for free?

A free drink? Great. Free food? Even better. Free sports tickets? Hot damn!

St. John’s announced last month that basketball tickets would no longer be free for students attending men’s and women’s basketball game at Carnesecca Arena and Madison Square Garden. But why not keep the idea to have student tickets free, at least for another season?

Sure, paying $5 for a Carnesecca Arena game and $10 for a game at Madison Square Garden is really not that substantial. And the athletic department never stated that the move to free tickets was permanent.

But from a public relations standpoint, how do you give students free tickets for one season and snatch them away the next? Wait at least another year before students start getting charged. Especially when the men’s team only improved three games total from the 2003-04 debacle of a season that saw multiple players disciplined for soliciting a prostitute and another player arrested √¢?” and later dismissed from the team √¢?” for smoking pot.

“I think the program has been let down by some of its players,” said Jennifer Gorman-Stokes, co-chair of the school spirit committee said. “I think they haven’t lived up to the standards set by [the university].”

Norm Roberts has the team on the right track, without question. He took a team that was Michael Bolton bad under former coach Mike Jarvis, added quality recruits and quality people and changed the whole attitude of the program. I mean, Jesus turned water into wine, but at least he had something to work with. Roberts didn’t.

“I think the idea of the tickets being free a year ago,” Athletic Director Chris Monasch said, “were driven by the theory of coming off a difficult year, Mike Jarvis’s last year [and] to show support for Norm.”

An excellent idea – even though the distribution process for student tickets last season was abysmal, at best.

Roberts has the program on track. The team is making impressive strides. But merely being on the right track is no reason to start charging students again.

After two years, are St. John’s students supposed to forget Grady Reynolds’ violence, Willie Shaw’s propensity for smoking weed, and the embarrassing sex scandal?

“It stinks that you have to pay to see a team that may not necessarily live up to the fact that you have to pay to see them,” Gorman-Stokes said. “But this is how it is and it’s something we have to deal with for the year.”

So why is the athletic department reinstating the admission charge for basketball?

Of course, Red Storm fans didn’t actually show up to games in record numbers last year. There was no significant student attendance jump from the 2003-04 season (when St. John’s charged for tickets) to last season.

For that reason, the athletic department decided to drop the free student tickets this year.

“There’s obviously a cost to running the athletic department,” said Monasch in an interview this week. “There’s obviously a cost to running the university. This is a way of generating some kind of revenue.”

Added Monasch: “When you purchase something for a small price, there’s more value to it. If you give out free tickets, you’re more likely to change your mind and not show up [to the game].”

However, if people aren’t going to show up for games anyway, is it really that big of a revenue generator to make tickets $5 and $10? Instead, students will be alienated altogether.

Granted, athletics needs to get money from the basketball team. There is no question about that. Men’s basketball, in particular, has been the main revenue sport for St. John’s since collegiate athletics started making money here. As cynical a statement as it is, one of the main reasons for having a successful basketball team is to make money.

St. John’s pours a ton of money into basketball – and athletics in general – every year.

Belson Stadium opened just three years ago. Sure, the cash to build it was donated by Jerome Belson and family, but it costs a ton of money to maintain and run a state-of-the-art soccer facility.

Taffner Field House just opened in September. Once again, the majority of the millions to build the facility was donated by the Taffner family.

But the equipment? The office amenities? The athletic department foots the bill for it all and doesn’t see a substantial portion of students’ tuition.

“For our primary sport, we’ve got to generate some revenue,” Monasch said.

By all means. But wait another year before admission is charged. Prove to St. John’s students that this team can compete with the big boys in the Big East.

Because if students are alienated now, they aren’t going to come crawling back when the team is competing for a conference title.