Tuesday night on campus, at first, looked quite ordinary. Students were in late meetings, picking out rooms for next year or grinding homework in libraries and common rooms when just after 9 p.m., phones started to buzz, and all work stopped. The lottery tickets had come out.
After Duke men's basketball beat Arkansas and North Carolina beat Saint Peter’s to advance to the Final Four, Duke Athletics announced that there would be 700 student tickets to the Final Four for undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Students who would receive a ticket to the Final Four game would also automatically have a ticket to the National Championship game if Duke were to advance past North Carolina in the first-ever NCAA tournament meeting between the two schools.
The recipients of these tickets would be decided by a true lottery—no sleeping outside in the rain, no walk-up line, just pure luck.
But it's Duke—there's always going to be a line.
On Monday, 2,062 students waited up to three hours to enter their names in the lottery. The line wound from the ticket office at Scott Family Athletic Performance Center to Towerview Road. Students brought chairs, speakers, homework and food to endure the long wait, even for a slim shot at attending the year's biggest game. Senior Katie Cannon was one of those students.
After waiting for about two-and-a-half hours on Monday, Cannon received her email Tuesday night. "Congratulations!" the first line reads. And she knows she's one of the lucky ones.
"You don't really think you're gonna get a ticket," said Cannon. "It's just ‘Might as well; why not?’" But Cannon did get a ticket, and she will be making the trek down to the Superdome.
Like many students who opened their email to a "Congratulations!”, Cannon's travel plans are far from solidified. Duke Athletics has secured transportation and accommodations for 104 students, but the spots on the two buses filled up in a matter of several minutes. The 596 students who didn’t get a seat on the Duke bus are left to fend for themselves, either by shelling out hundreds to potentially thousands for a plane ticket or making the 12-hour road trip. Cannon is in the latter group.
"It's a lot cheaper than a flight," she said.
Freshman Elina Murarka was in line for roughly three hours. She passed the time by doing homework and talking with her friends. The hope was that the whole group would get tickets, and they would all make the trip to New Orleans together. However, only Murarka and one friend were successful.
For Murarka, the big-game experience is one she didn't want to miss.
"I didn't get to go to the Duke-UNC game at Duke because I didn't get a tenting spot. And so I think this is almost like a redo for that," she said.
Duke and North Carolina have already competed twice this season, starting with a bang for the Blue Devils in the Tar Heels-hosted match Feb. 5. Duke marched into the Dean Smith Center ready to dominate—and it did, collecting a 20-point victory. The matchup one month later, however, was completely different, and left Duke fans devastated.
The NCAA tournament would be a completely different story. With their recent struggles, the Blue Devils were doubted from the start, but got through Cal State Fullerton, Michigan State, Texas Tech and Arkansas to reach the Final Four.
The lottery offered students one more chance to witness history, and it’s one that students are eager to take advantage of.
Senior Erin Butcher was about to go to bed early on Tuesday night for her ROTC training when she decided to check her email one last time. She still was unsure about going because she knew there would be fun events on campus, such as a watch party at Cameron Indoor Stadium and burning benches. But when Butcher opened her email to see that she got a ticket, she spent the next hour or so calling her father, looking into how she might get there and overjoyed with emotions.
"I feel incredibly grateful to be in that position to be able to watch such an important game and honor the legacy of Coach K by being there to support the team," Butcher said. "...Regardless of how it turns out, I know this is going to be the story that I tell everyone going forward. Like, 'Oh, you went to Duke? You must have been a huge basketball fan.' And I'll be like, well actually, I went and saw them at the Final Four in New Orleans. So you could say that I'm a huge basketball fan."
Butcher is still unsure of how she’s getting there and she doesn’t know anyone else that’s going that she is close with as of now. But like many of her peers at Duke, she’s determined to go, even if that means she has to go by herself.
“I think it's gonna be such a unique thing. Because all of us, again, we may not all be the best of friends, but we're all gonna have this one common experience together—going to the Final Four,” Butcher said. “I bet some of us will come back with more friends.”
Cannon is going to drive herself, her friend and anyone else they can find to fill the car. Murarka was hoping for a seat on the Duke bus, but after that mission proved futile, she is looking at flights into alternative airports. Sophomore Muaz Kashif doesn’t know how he’s going to get there, but he knows he’ll find a way.
“Even if we're at the complete top, you just know they're going to be able to hear us on the court,” said Cannon.
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Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.
Ana Young is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.