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Should Students Scalp Student Bowl Tickets?

For 20 minutes on Sunday night, Wisconsin students swooped up the 5,800 Rose Bowl tickets that were available on the school’s athletic department Web site at the $150 face value.

Hours later, Wisconsin’s student paper, The Badger Herald, printed a list of students who put those tickets on sale on their Facebook pages by calling them “The Worst People On Campus.”

“There is a special place in Hell for people who buy Rose Bowl tickets with the sole intention of profiting from them,” the paper’s editorial read. “It is entirely unfair to those who actually love this football team and were counting on a cheap face value ticket in order to make the trip to Pasadena an economic reality.”

Football stadium seats
VEER Scott Barrow | Getty Images
Football stadium seats

What some did by putting them on sale wasn’t illegal, but was it unethical?

For that question, I turned to Thomas Bowers, co-director of the MBA Sports and Entertainment program at the University of Indiana's Kelley School of Business.

“So many definitions of what ethical is lies in the eyes of the beholder,” Bowers said. “Often unethical conduct is illegal. This is more like profit maximization within the limits of the law.”

Bowers said that by putting the tickets up for sale, what the students did might have been good business, but it is unethical.

“The rule that exists in society and religion is the so called Golden Rule of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Bowers said. “If you apply that definition, most people would agree that what these students did was unethical in that it deprived people who wanted to go who didn’t get a chance to buy tickets.”

Having a student population at the game is important because the current students are often the team’s best and most raucous fans. Between Wisconsin and TCU about 9,800 tickets were planned to be part of the student sale, which means if every student ticket went to a student, slightly more than 10 percent of the Rose Bowl crowd would be guaranteed to be a student.

Wisconsin’s big mistake appears to be that they allowed students to pick up the seats that they bought on campus on Dec. 15 instead of at the Rose Bowl game itself. Schools have been doing that for years to ensure that student tickets go to students.

How long?

Bowers said he was at the Rose Bowl as a student at Ohio State in 1971 and 1973 and, even then, students had to pick up their tickets in Pasadena.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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