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When Greg Demery realized the ticket he'd bought from a scalper for last Saturday's game between North Carolina and Virginia was two rows behind the Cavaliers bench, he couldn't believe his good fortune.
"I thought, 'How did I get this lucky to get this ticket?'" the lifelong Tar Heels fan recalled. "This low to the court? This never happens to me.'"
Unfortunately for Demery, he didn't keep his seat long enough to watch lineup introductions from up close, let alone the game.
Before the 46-year-old Arlington, Va. resident had time to remove his Carolina blue coat, a security guard approached and told Demery he couldn't sit in that section of John Paul Jones Arena wearing Tar Heels colors. Soon afterward, another Virginia staffer asked to see his ticket to verify that it was legitimate. And finally, associate athletic director Jason Bauman escorted Demery from his seat and relocated him to another seat 17 rows higher in the lower bowl.
"I couldn't believe it," Demery said. "I'm sitting there hoping to enjoy the game courtside and I thought it was going to work out great and in a matter of 15 minutes, it changed. I just was shaking my head thinking, 'How is this possible? How are they allowed to get away with this?'"
Bauman feels bad that Demery's new seat wasn't as close to the court as his original, but he doesn't intend to alter Virginia's policy and doesn't regret anything else about how he handled the incident.
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Whereas other North Carolina fans in the lower bowl were not required to move, Bauman said he relocated Demery because the seats directly behind the Virginia bench usually belong to athletic department staffers. In this case one of those staffers gave their tickets to to a friend who then sold one to a scalper, enabling Demery to purchase it for $100.
"I understood he didn't know the rules before he purchased that ticket which is why I wanted to find as good a ticket for him as I could," Bauman said. "I think it's the right approach to those seats, I think I handled it in a professional manner and I think I was respectful of him, but I also think the result was very fair."
Strangely enough, North Carolina was involved in a similar incident that made headlines last season. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams instructed security personnel to remove a Presbyterian fan sitting a few rows behind the Carolina bench after he heckled big man Deon Thompson as he was shooting a free throw.
Demery hasn't pursued any legal action at this time, but an expert in sports law said that his rights may have been violated.
Michael McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School, said that Demery's contractual rights may have been breached if the ticket he purchased didn't stipulate that he could not sit in the seat unless he was a Virginia fan. McCann also said relocating Demery may have been a First Amendment violation since Virginia is a public school and has less authority to regulate speech than a private institution.
"A fan who wears the 'wrong' team's shirt should probably not be excluded from a particular seat that he has legally purchased," McCann wrote via e-mail. "Sure, schools can encourage fans of one team to sit in certain sections, but they probably can't sell a ticket and then revoke its conditions because the ticket-buyer happens to be a fan of the other team."
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The most frustrating aspect of the incident for Demery is he feels like Virginia spoiled a game that he'd been looking forward to for weeks.
Driving two hours to Charlottesville and shelling out $100 for a ticket was well worth the trouble for Demery because he figured he'd enjoy the rare chance to watch his beloved Tar Heels in person. Instead he spent so much time stewing about being booted out of his seat that North Carolina's come-from-behind 62-56 victory wasn't as much fun as it could have been.
At halftime, Demery sought out guest services, explained the situation and attempted to get his previous seat back only to have Bauman meet him again and turn him down. Demery even asked a policeman at the arena whether what Virginia was doing was legal, but the officer sided with Bauman.
"This was an opportunity for me to see Carolina in person and see them up close, and they kind of put a damper on everything," Demery said. "The best thing about the whole day was we won. It was a slight vindication after all that happened."
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