Law student Burke Miller offered future legal services in exchange… (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
COLLEGE PARK — The ad possessed a hopeful tone with a hint of desperation.
"I am a Terp fanatic, but as a law student I am in the unfortunate position of not being able to afford tickets to Wednesday night's game against Duke," said the posting on Craigslist, the online classifieds site. "In exchange for tickets, I am willing to sign a contract that will guarantee a TBD number of billable hours of attorney services fully redeemable upon my passing of the Maryland bar. Please contact me as soon as possible."
First-year law student Burke Miller's creative ad is testament to the extraordinary demand for tickets to see the streaking University of Maryland men's basketball team play Duke in a game that recalls meaningful past encounters between the schools surrounding the Terrapins' 2002 national championship.
"The feeling is reminiscent of the early 2000s when Comcast [Center] was sold out on a season-ticket basis," Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said in an e-mail Monday.
Lower-level tickets for the sold-out game at the 17,950-seat arena were being offered Monday for $250 to $599 - in some cases more than 10 times face value - by ticket brokers who pronounced it the hottest regular-season Terps game in recent years. Brokers and others said buyers far outpaced sellers because most of the seats are held by season-ticket holders reluctant to give them up even at a healthy profit.
It's a game with abundant story lines, creating a perfect storm for an athletic department that - like its counterparts at universities around the nation - has been feeling pinched by sports fans curbing their spending because of the economy.
Season-ticket sales for the team's games are down by about 2,000 over the past two years. "All of us believe the economy played a large role in the reduction of season-ticket sales," said Randy Eaton, the athletic department's chief financial officer. Maryland is averaging 16,715 in home attendance.
The game pits two teams whose students delight in taunting each other online and in their arenas. Both teams enter on winning streaks - Duke has won eight in a row, and Maryland has won five straight. At 11-3, the Terps are one game behind Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings with one game to play after Wednesday's matchup.
On Monday, Maryland entered the Associated Press' national rankings - the Terps are 22nd - for the first time since November. Duke is No. 4.
It's also the final home game for three starting seniors, including Greivis Vasquez, the animated guard and team leader who is No. 3 on Maryland's career scoring list behind Juan Dixon and Len Bias.
"I think it's a big-time game," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Monday.
But for fans such as Miller, Maryland's success quite literally comes at a price.
As thrilled as the 2007 Maryland graduate is to see his team battling for the regular-season ACC title, it is torturous for him to be on the outside looking in.
Miller said he hasn't missed a Duke game at the Comcast Center since 2004. The University of Baltimore law student placed his ad when he saw online ticket prices soar beyond his means after Maryland's recent dramatic wins. The Terps won at Virginia Tech in double overtime Saturday.
Miller, who spent Monday checking for replies to his ad between classes, said he got his idea after spying an ad from a Craigslist seller who was seeking money or "services" in exchange for his Maryland-Duke tickets. Miller contacted the seller, who declined to surrender tickets in return for Miller's offer of future legal work.
"I'm still hopeful," said Miller, a Frederick native. "I'd sit down with [a seller] and make a contract and look at the standard billable rate for a young attorney. I've got full faith that I'd be a good attorney."
The Duke-Maryland rivalry - the Blue Devils have won the past six meetings - has produced a raft of memorable games. There was Dixon scoring 31 points at Cameron Indoor Stadium to help Maryland end Duke's 46-game home winning streak on Senior Night in 2000. There was Maryland losing a 90-80 lead with 54 seconds to play before falling in overtime in 2001.
"All season I've been looking at [Wednesday's] game thinking it would be a great game," said Towson University sophomore Pete Dilutis, who, like Miller, has been unable to secure a ticket. "I'm a big sports fan - Ravens and Orioles and Terps - and I've never seen a game that has been so hard to get tickets for in my life."
Maryland coach Gary Williams said Monday that he's pleased to see the fans' excitement. "The way our season has gone and Duke's season has gone, that's why this is a big game. Sure it's great that there's a buzz and everything like that," he said.
But the coach said his players need to think only about basketball. "As a team you try not to get caught up in all that," he said. "You try to approach it the way we did Virginia Tech or any other game," he said.