Some politicians attend Iron Bowl for free

Katherine Martin

The University of Alabama and Auburn University have offered complimentary Iron Bowl tickets to state legislators for the past 35 years, and plan to do so again this year, Cathy Andreen, director of media relations, said.

“This long-standing tradition gives the universities an opportunity to showcase the important and positive impact we have on issues that are critical to the state, including economic development,” Andreen said.

Last year, Jim Metrock, president of Obligation Inc., became aware of this policy and set out to have it stopped by shaming officials into giving up their tickets.

“This is one of those traditions that needs to end,” Metrock said. “This is as good of an example of ‘business as usual’ in the state of Alabama as anything. No legislator, no appointed official in the state of Alabama has earned these tickets.”

The tickets Alabama state legislators, Cabinet officials and other members of the executive branch are not apart of any public official’s compensation package, Metrock said.

“There’s nothing right about a person in Alabama, a public official in Alabama, using these tickets for personal gain,” Metrock said. “This is a personal gain.”

Metrock said the fact that the two universities have been doing this for the past 35 years is not a good enough defense to continue issuing the tickets.

“We want a higher ethical standard in this state,” Metrock said.

There are no restrictions as to what public officials can do with the tickets once they receive them, Metrock said. They are free to give tickets away, sell them, or give them to a charity organization.

In July, Metrock said he drove from Birmingham in hopes to talk with President Witt about the issue, but was denied a meeting.

Metrock said although the University says it is an opportunity for legislators and others to learn about the campus and meet school officials, it is ultimately for favors done before or for future favors that are coming up.

“This is a lobbying tool,” Metrock said. “That’s what lobbying is about, trying to get people to make decisions that are more favorable to you. It’s just unseemly.”

Metrock said he has had a hard time getting the University of Alabama to give him any specific information about the ticketing issue.

He said he requested the names of people who were being sent tickets to the Iron Bowl and was given the response, “Cabinet members.”

“The University – Dr. Witt on down – has not been forthcoming with information, and when they have, they have just misrepresented information, and that doesn’t serve the public,” Metrock said. “There should be transparency.”

As of now, Metrock said, President Witt has made no commitment to stop sending legislators tickets to the game.

Metrock said that deep down, Alabama and Auburn would both probably like to stop giving away these tickets if both agreed to at the same time because they know that they are not in the business of giving away free tickets.

Some legislators, like Representative Alan Harper of Northport, have mailed back tickets they received from the University.

“Receiving tickets is a perk associated with the office I am elected to,” Harper said. “I don’t feel like I should accept anything just because I am an elected official. I don’t condemn anyone that accepts the tickets at all, it’s just not the right thing for me to do.”

John Merrill, a legislator from Tuscaloosa, said he doesn’t have a problem with the University giving tickets to anybody that they want to give them to.

“I think it’s important that they use this as an opportunity to make sure that folks understand how the University operates and why they do what they do,” Merrill said.

Merrill said giving invited guests the opportunity to meet with the president, athletic director, governmental liaisons or deans, is very important and should happen every Saturday home game.

Although Merrill supports the continued issuing of tickets, he has turned down tickets this year because he and his family have four Tide Pride tickets to Alabama football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and gymnastics.

“This is the way I look at it,” Merrill said. “If you don’t want the to accept the invitation to from the University of Alabama to attend a ballgame, then you just need to say no thank you. If you want to attend, then you need to take advantage of the opportunity when it is presented to you.”

Merrill said he talked to Metrock about the issue. He suggested that if this is a true issue to him and their organization, to go to other school across Alabama and talk to them about restricting access to tickets to their athletic events and not just single out Alabama and Auburn.

Metrock said that if students have an issue with the University giving out free tickets to public officials, they can tell President Witt in whatever way is appropriate to stop doing this.

Anyone can also contact their legislator and ask them to send the tickets back, Metrock said.

Metrock said hopefully since he has raised this issue, it will be brought up in the special session about ethics Gov. Bob Riley and future Gov. Dr. Robert Bentley have suggested. Then, he said, it would be successful.

“You’re not entitled to the tickets,” Metrock said. “You’re not entitled to use them or sell them, from my point of view, and your not entitled to give them away. You’re entitled to send them right back and tell Dr. Witt and [Auburn President Jay] Gogue ‘never send me these tickets again.’ That’s how we get more ethical.”