As Ohio State's assistant athletic director for ticketing and preferred seating, Brett Scarbrough understands the passion of Buckeyes fans. He expected fans to jump at the chance to buy tickets for the Sugar Bowl game against Alabama in the inaugural College Football Playoff semifinals.

As Ohio State's assistant athletic director for ticketing and preferred seating, Brett Scarbrough understands the passion of Buckeyes fans.

He expected fans to jump at the chance to buy tickets for the Sugar Bowl game against Alabama in the inaugural College Football Playoff semifinals.

But he also knew that flights to New Orleans are expensive, as are the city's hotels. He also remembers what a tough sell the past few bowl games have been.

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So he was taken aback when Ohio State's allotment of 13,000 seats sold out in 24 hours after the Dec. 7 announcement that the Buckeyes had qualified for the semifinals.

"I didn't know what to expect with the first time in the playoffs," Scarbrough said. "I had heard a lot through the grapevine that people might take a chance and wait and see if we make it to the championship game. So I was a little surprised they went that quickly. But that's Buckeye Nation for you."

The Sugar Bowl and Big Ten later contributed an extra 600 tickets. Those were gone quickly, as well.

The 13,600 tickets Ohio State had to sell are down from the 17,500 the Buckeyes were allotted as part of Bowl Championship Series games. Scarbrough said he didn't know why schools get fewer tickets for the playoff.

Scarbrough said that some Buckeyes fans accustomed to buying tickets through Ohio State were stunned that they couldn't this year.

"There were some people who were understanding, and there were some who were irate," he said.

The process for applying for tickets opened on Nov. 18, and those who got tickets did so based on the number of points they'd accumulated in Ohio State's formula.

Those who couldn't buy tickets through the university have had to scramble to find reasonably priced tickets on secondary markets. It hasn't been easy.

Chris Matcovich, director of data and operations for TiqIQ.com, a secondary-market ticket aggregation site, said that the cheapest Sugar Bowl ticket is $193. The average price, he said, is $375.

The face value of tickets sold through Ohio State ranges from $195 to $270.

Matcovich credited - or blamed, depending on your perspective - the high prices largely on two factors: New Orleans is only about a 4½-hour drive from Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Ohio State fans are willing to shell out a lot to see the Buckeyes compete for a national title for the first time under coach Urban Meyer.

Traffic on TiqIQ.com is running about 3 to 1 for residents of Alabama over those from Ohio, he said.

"Considering how far and how much it's going to cost to go down to New Orleans to see the game, it's pretty impressive (for Ohio State)," Matcovich said.

It's a slight consolation that the price for the average ticket has dropped 37 percent since the day the matchup was announced.

Still, Sugar Bowl tickets are about twice as expensive as those for the Rose Bowl matchup between Oregon and Florida State. The cheapest ticket for that game had dropped to $96 on Monday, Matcovich said.

The lack of proximity for either team is a major factor in the lack of demand for that game. Eugene, Ore., is a 14-hour drive to Pasadena, Calif., and it's probably safe to say that neither the Ducks nor Seminoles have the fan base the size of Alabama's or Ohio State's.

If the Buckeyes win on Thursday, they will have a 20,000-ticket allotment for the championship game in Arlington, Texas. Scarbrough said that tickets remain available for that.

An OSU win over Alabama would mean some hectic days for those in the ticket office, but Scarbrough said it's a headache he would be happy to have.

"We have to do as much planning as we can now because we only have 10 days to complete that," Scarbrough said of processing sales for the championship game. "We are the first ones to go through this. We're making history.

"Yeah, I'm nervous, but I've got a great team of people."

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch