The Great Ticket Scalp - When No One Saw The Canes And Gators...On TV

Woman giving tickets

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There was a time when the NCAA penalized schools for breaking rules by banning them from playing on TV. The last school to deal with such a penalty was Ole Miss back in 1995 over violations the program was accused with that included paying recruits cash and providing cars as well. Two years earlier, Auburn also was banned from having games on television because of a lack of institutional control for violations as well.

Since those days, the NCAA decided there were better ways to penalize schools that have a longer lasting impact. In addition, conference TV deals made it harder to allow such a TV ban.

But back in 1984 the University of Florida was placed on probation for the many violations that took place under coach Charley Pell. Part of the probation was a TV ban for the 1985 and 1986 seasons. The 1985 team went 9-1-1. They opened the season with a win at Miami. Had the famous tie against Rutgers the following week where then coach Galen Hall inserted Apopka's own, Rodney Brewer, in at quarterback to get some snaps. Then the Gators rolled to win their next six- including wins at 8th ranked LSU, home against 14th ranked Tennessee and at 6th ranked Auburn. That led to the first ever number one ranking for Florida and their first and only loss of the season in Jacksonville against 17th ranked Georgia. They beat Kentucky the following week and rolled a 12th rated FSU team at home to end the season 9-1-1. There was no TV and no bowl for Florida. The New York Times computer ranked Florida number one and declared them a national champ.

Which brings us to 1986 and the second year of the TV ban for Florida football. I was a sophomore in Gainesville and the 1985 season created an opportunity for a roommate of mine. 

My parents helped as much as they could, but I paid for most of my college journey and did so by working in radio and television, refereeing intramural sports and picking up odd jobs when time allowed. One day, a friend told me about washing dishes at sorority houses. He explained that it was a great way to meet girls and that most didn't attend football games and how piles of game tickets would just sit on a table unclaimed. 

My roommate, a business major, had an idea. The plan was to wash dishes, ask if we could take a couple of tickets for our work and sell those tickets to a growing market of fans since it was the only way to watch the Gators play in 1985. 

One sorority house gave us the job to wash dishes and clean the kitchen and the "house mom" allowed us to take a few tickets that went unclaimed.(The system to get student tickets in 1985 was a bit different than it is today). My roommate's plan was to place ads in newspapers in the major markets in the state. Yes, there was a time that you actually called a newspaper and placed an ad in the classifieds where people looked for jobs, or cars to sell and even tickets to sporting events. We placed ads in the Miami Herald, Tampa Tribune, Jacksonville Times Union and Gainesville Sun. Each ad cost anywhere between $2-$5 and we ran ads usually the week before a game. In an era before cell phones, we literally listed the number for our dorm room at Broward Hall on the Florida campus. But "ticket scalping" was illegal back then so you needed to be creative in the ad and in the transaction of the exchange of money for tickets. We ended up selling "four pencils" for $100 and the envelope happened to also include four tickets to the game.

October 12, 1985 was the Tennessee game at Florida and our first test of selling tickets. We bombed. We got few calls and ended up with one sale and likely lost money that week because we ended up buying other tickets thinking we would score big and the demand would be huge. After all, the Gators were banned from TV and we assumed the market for tickets would be massive. The market was massive, we just didn't understand how to attack that market.

By the FSU game at the end of the season, we began to understand how to write the classified ad and how to handle the "meet up" and transaction. That game, we may have made around $200 and thought we were rich. But we learned the game and felt 1986 was the time to take up a notch.

Despite the probation, the Gators were coming off a 9-1-1 season and began the 1986 year ranked 13th. They beat the number one team in 1-AA, Georgia Southern, in the opener but the biggest game was the following week. The Miami Hurricanes were coming to town and the Canes were ranked number two in Jimmy Johnson's third season.

This was the game to score for us. We had decided to split up our dishwashing duties to work at different sorority houses that year in order to secure more tickets to sell. And we did all we could to get as many tickets to this game. It was huge. The hype was off the chart and the ticket demand was greater than we could have imagined.

We placed ads in the newspapers three weeks before that September 6th game and our phone never stopped ringing. We cost ourselves money early in the process by agreeing to prices to sell the tickets only to see the market more than double and triple leading up to the game. 

In total, I think we secured almost 30 tickets to the UM-UF game. We cut deals with fans from south Florida, north Florida, Georgia, New York, Boston and even Los Angeles. The key was planning on locations and times to meet and make the "pencil" transactions. We had to hire(for pay) three additional friends to help with all the meetups. The cash-for-pencil/ticket-swaps started Friday morning and lasted up until kickoff of the game. We cleared north of $3,000 that week. In 1986 for two college sophomores that felt like a million bucks. We had a few would-be-buyers back out and new buyers jump in. We sold and bought more tickets that morning and even made a few transactions after kickoff. 

We did keep two tickets for ourselves but I missed most of the first half. Why? Well, we did a few more sales after kickoff and then we needed to walk back to Broward Hall to bring the cash back to our room. I got back to the stadium and watched a game that featured many players who went on to the NFL and I felt like the richest person in that stadium. The Hurricanes won 23-15 and I left midway in the fourth to head to the radio station to host "Dial-a-Score"- the popular call-in show on WRUF. I had a hard time ripping the loss that day because I was the big winner.

The following week, fourth ranked Alabama came to town and we ended up making another $2,000 because Tide fans travel well. Games with Auburn and LSU were very profitable for us as well.

I don't remember the exact amount of money we made that season. I do know it paid for a few semesters for me. I didn't have to give the assistant manager at the bookstore my TV to hold as collateral for my books until I had the money to pay for them- which I did in 1985. 

The Gators returned to TV in 1987 but the talent slide had started. They were 6-6 in 1987 and 7-5 in 1988. The ticket scalping market dried up and tickets were easy to come by. I stopped washing dishes after that 1986 season but that money lasted long after that fall.

The NCAA no longer bans schools from appearing on television as a penalty for violating rules. But over 30 years ago, it was a lucrative opportunity for two young college students who had a different NIL deal that paid off pretty, pretty well.

Final note: In 1985, Florida and Tennessee finished 5-1 in conference play atop the standings. The Gators beat the Vols that season but the league recognized Tennessee as conference champs because Florida was on probation.

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