Virginia Tech AD surprised by lagging Sugar Bowl sales, explains non-conference schedule

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For the Bowl Subdivision's national leader in victories since 1995 and a program preparing for its 19th consecutive postseason appearance, Virginia Tech sure is enduring a raft of flack these days.

First, critics deemed the Hokies unworthy of their bid to play Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. Now folks are hammering Tech for not selling out its allotment of 17,500 bowl tickets.

There are grains of truth to both threads, but the storylines are more nuanced than many portray.

Did the Hokies crumble against Clemson less than 24 hours before the Sugar Bowl invite? Absolutely. The 38-10 loss in the ACC title game was their worst effort of 2011.

Was Tech's non-conference schedule less ambitious than in the past? Certainly.

And does the school's sale of less than 10,000 Sugar Bowl tickets pale to Michigan's 14,000-plus? Can't dispute the math.

"I didn't think it would be an easy sell, Tech athletic director Jim Weaver said Tuesday. "But I thought we would respond more closely to how we responded when we were playing Tennessee in Atlanta."

The Hokies and Volunteers met in the 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl, and Tech sold out its 17,500 tickets.

"There's a couple games I think our fans have always wanted us to play," Weaver said. "One was Tennessee, another one is Notre Dame, another one's Michigan and another one's Penn State.

"I'm not disappointed because I think we're going to have a lot of people there. Our people, having gone to 19 straight bowl games, are pretty savvy, and they know how to work the secondary ticket market. So I think we're going to have our fans there. We're just not going to have all of our tickets sold. I think we'll end up selling 10,000, 10,500. That's a guesstimate. We still have two weeks to go."

Since Tech has accounted for more than the 8,000 required by the ACC, the conference will reimburse the school for unused tickets. Still, the Hokies took the unusual step Monday of publicly asking fans to purchase proxy tickets that will be donated to military and needy families in New Orleans.

So why the jarring contrast in bowl ticket demand between 2009 and '11?

First, unlike for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, tickets for the Sugar are much cheaper at sites such as StubHub. Second, Atlanta is far more accessible to Tech fans than New Orleans. Third, the Chick-fil-A is staged New Year's Eve, while the Sugar is Tuesday Jan. 3.

For that blame the Bowl Championship Series and ESPN, which want each BCS game to have an exclusive television window. No matter that major bowls thrived when played on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. No matter that a Jan. 3 date forces fans to take time off from work or school.

The Orange Bowl is saddled with a similarly foolish date, Jan. 4, and its teams, Clemson and West Virginia, have sold fewer tickets than Virginia Tech.

"I think if there's something the BCS can do to make it more palatable to attend, I think that would be terrific," Weaver said.

As for Michigan's sales lapping Virginia Tech's: You'd expect nothing less from a program that draws 100,000-plus for home games and hasn't been to the BCS in five years.

Plus, let's not forget that tens of thousands of Hokies flocked to Charlotte for the ACC championship game and that double-dipping for a bowl in this economy is a non-starter for many.

Tech's sales are of particular interest because Sugar Bowl ayatollah Paul Hoolahan cited fan support as among the reasons for the Hokies' selection. And if those numbers continue to lag, questions about Tech's invitation will persist.

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