Jerry Fenske goes camping each year at Allen Fieldhouse.
Fenske and 15 fellow students at Kansas University don't take up permanent residence at the old gymnasium. Their interest isn't fishing, hunting or hiking.
It's big-time college basketball.
Like clockwork, dozens of students form camping teams and hunker down in the fieldhouse to secure its best general admission seats.
In this case, if Fenske and his buddies held the line, they'd land in seats for the Jayhawks' showdown with the Missouri Tigers close enough to the court to see sweat beads break out on players' faces.
"We want to be next to the court," Fenske said.
Fenske's group, and about 20 other groups like it, have season tickets to sold-out home games. But a first-come, first-served system developed over the years rewards those willing to stand in line for prime seats. Students make it feel like home-away-from-home by hauling in tents, sleeping bags, snacks, CD players, video games and, of course, a few textbooks.
Every now and then, coach Roy Williams drops by with a box of doughnuts.
This fieldhouse camping ritual is an extreme example of the lengths students go to witness Jayhawk athletes in action.
Tickets to other KU sports events are generally easy to come by. The Jayhawks football program 21-35 during the past five years rarely attracts a sellout to Memorial Stadium. In recent seasons, the biggest draw has been visiting teams, including Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas State.
None of the university's other sports programs draw big crowds.
On Mount Oread, it is undeniable that basketball pushes the student body to extravagant levels.
All 7,000 tickets reserved for students are easily sold each year for the Fieldhouse, which seats 16,300. In part, it's the price of a ticket that students find attractive. They can buy a combination football and basketball season pass for $100 quite a bargain.
The other reason KU men's basketball draws well among students has nothing to do with economics.
The team's record over the past five years is 141-35. They have the same number of losses as the football team, but 120 more victories in the five-year span.
Final Four frenzy
The 2002 NCAA Tournament offered fresh evidence that winning breeds loyalty among students. KU won 33 games on its way to the Final Four.
KU students spent a pile of money on tickets, travel, lodging and partying at tournament stops in St. Louis, Madison, Wis., and Atlanta.
Benjamin Hawkins, a Kansas City, Kan., resident who plans to enroll this fall at KU, said he had paid $100 for a mid-level seat in the Edward Jones Dome for a first-round game between Kansas and Holy Cross. His friend, Jason Schmidt, landed a spot five rows closer to the KU bench, but paid $150.
That KU-Holy Cross tilt was a nail-biter. Hawkins said the excitement of that game justified the expense.
"We love good basketball," he said. "You pay for what you get, and this was worth the price of admission."
In Madison, during the tournament's second round, KU played in a smaller arena, the Kohl Center. Most tickets were locked up months before KU earned a spot there in the Midwest Regional.
Scalpers were the primary option for many KU students.
The situation was much the same at the Final Four in Atlanta, where KU business student Jessica Spohn of Fredonia bought a $280 nosebleed ticket on eBay.
"Best money I've ever spent," Spohn said.
Rajeeb Hossain, a clerk in the KU ticket office, said fieldhouse sellouts also made the presence of scalpers on Naismith Drive a fact of life at KU.
"The desperate always go to the ticket brokers," Hossain said.
It's perfectly legal in Lawrence to scalp tickets.
The face value of a general admission ticket to a KU home game is usually $25.
Brokers have slim profit margins on tickets sold for most games, but they can earn a premium on tickets to games involving ranked foes or hard-core rivals.
Tickets for the KU-MU game this past season, which matched the No. 2 home team against the No. 20 visitor, were being scalped for $50 or more.
Hossain said the lively trade done by scalpers reflected on the quality of basketball played inside the fieldhouse.
And folks who find a way into the old place usually get their money's worth.
"I don't think there are any bad seats in the fieldhouse," Hossain said.