Hal Pate stood on line 32 years ago with thousands of other University of Georgia students waiting to purchase tickets to see the Bulldogs face the University of Notre Dame for college football’s national championship.
“It wasn’t really a line, it was more like a mob,” Pate said. “It was scary. At one point, I remember my feet were off the ground, we were so crushed together.”
Pate paid $17 to watch the Bulldogs win the title in the Sugar Bowl, 17-10. Now an executive with Atlanta-based IDI Inc., an industrial real estate development firm, he is among about 70,000 fans to secure tickets to tomorrow’s Southeastern Conference championship game in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome between Georgia and the University of Alabama.
This time it cost him $21,000 -- about how much Pate and his wife have donated to the school since graduation, making them eligible to purchase two seats under the school’s points-based ticket-allotment system. The game will provide a spot in the national championship contest for the winner and has produced the highest resale prices for any college conference championship this season.
The couple paid $100 each for seats in the upper deck, far less than the current lowest price of $337 for one ticket, according to TiqIQ, an aggregator of the ticket resale market. Prices range as high as $5,747 for a seat in the front row of the stadium’s mezzanine section as of Nov. 28, according to TiqIQ data.
“We do love our football,” Pate, 55, said in a telephone interview. “That’s our supply-and-demand system working to perfection. We kid about it being a religion down here in the South, but in a lot of ways it really is.”
With Alabama (11-1) ranked No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings and Georgia (11-1) No. 3, the game amounts to a semifinal for the national championship.
The winner will face No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) in the Jan. 7 BCS title game in Miami. The Fighting Irish, who are independent in football, ensured themselves a spot with a 22-13 victory at the University of Southern California on Nov. 24.
Alabama, the defending national champion, and Georgia topped the conference’s West and East divisions at the end of the regular season.
“It’s what you always hope for,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It’s what you want. You fight like mad every year to get your team in a position like this. The season is not over. There’s a lot of ball to be played still.”
Getting a chance to watch it be played is the expensive part for a lot of Southeastern Conference football fans. Upper-level seats for the Atlantic Coast Conference title game between Florida State University and Georgia Tech in Charlotte, North Carolina, the same day are being offered for $3.
Pate, who has had four season tickets near the end zone of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium since his 1981 graduation, said the high prices aren’t enough to make him want to sell.
To qualify for two seats, Georgia alumni must have accumulated between 16,401 and 49,999 points by donating about the same amount of money to the university’s athletic foundation. The system also accounts for how long a person has been a season-ticket holder. Alabama has a similar points-based system for tickets to high-profile games.
“I am on the lower end,” Pate said of his donations, which are matched by his employer. “It looks like I’m not keeping up.”
The winner of college football’s national title has come from the Southeastern Conference every year since 2006, with Alabama taking two of the past three.
Alabama will be making its eight appearance in the conference championship game. The Crimson Tide won their first nine games this season before a 29-24 loss to Texas A&M and freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel on Nov. 10, then ended the regular season with a 49-0 win against in-state rival Auburn University.
Georgia, which lost to Louisiana State University in last year’s conference title game, ended this season with six consecutive wins. The school’s only loss came on the road on Oct. 6, 35-7 to South Carolina.
It’s the first conference championship meeting between the schools and the first time they have played each other since 2008, when Alabama beat the Bulldogs 41-30 in Athens, Georgia.
“It’s an opportunity and we have to take advantage,” Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said on a media conference call. “We’re still in it and this is everything that we’ve worked for all year.”
Pate has spent three decades working for it.
“Given the stakes, you’ve got to find a way to be there,” he said.