Posted: Tuesday March 8, 2005 9:07PM; Updated: Wednesday March 9, 2005 7:46PM
Mike Tice acknowledged to SI.com that he met with league security officials Wednesday at the team complex.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
By Don Banks and George Dohrmann, SI.com
Minnesota head coach Mike Tice is being investigated by the NFL for allegedly heading up and profiting from a Super Bowl ticket-scalping operation within the Vikings organization, a violation of NFL rules that league sources say has been going on for years.
Two investigators from the league's security staff, Larry Sweeney and John Keenan, were in the Twin Cities on Tuesday, questioning Tice in his office and speaking with Vikings running backs coach Dean Dalton, as well as other club personnel. The pair left the team complex in the afternoon to meet with the team's director of ticket sales, Phil Huebner, at the Metrodome, where Minnesota's ticket operations are headquartered.
The league requires all players, coaches, and club personnel who buy Super Bowl tickets to sign a release stating they will not re-sell them at a profit. Still, the practice of scalping Super Bowl tickets is widespread within the league and is an open secret in many NFL locker rooms. Yet the practice in Minnesota is unique, league sources say, because it has been orchestrated by the head coach. And, according to people familiar with the scalping operation, Tice began facilitating the reselling of Super Bowl tickets long before becoming the Vikings' head coach in January 2002. Tice coached Minnesota's tight ends and then offensive line beginning in 1996.
"This started when [Tice] wasn't the figure he is now," said one team source. "I can't believe how rampant it's been. Stuff like this has gone on a long time. There's a pretty good amount of people involved. There could be a lot of people affected by this, not just in the NFL's view, but with the IRS as well."
Tice acknowledged to SI.com that he met with league security officials Tuesday at the team complex, but said he told them he had nothing to do with the re-selling of players' tickets.
"They were in here talking to me and others about how we deal with our Super Bowl tickets, and how they're distributed,'' Tice said. "I'm confident when the league finishes looking at this, everything will come out fine. It's a shame assumptions are being made about my role in this. I did not approach any player about Super Bowl tickets as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.''
However, in mid-January, after the Vikings were eliminated by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC divisional playoffs, a team source said Tice organized the re-selling of Super Bowl tickets for players and club employees. (Each NFL player has the right to buy two Super Bowl tickets at face value, which this year was $500 and $600 depending on the location of the seat). Those who gave their tickets to Tice received $1,900, a mark-up of at least $1,300 per ticket, sources said. Last season, individuals brokering tickets through Tice received $1,100 per ticket, a former Vikings player said.
"Tice has been turning around tickets for years and years," said one player who was with the Vikings in 2003. "He's been selling them to the same guy. He commits to a certain amount every year."
Late in the 2003 season, Tice berated one Vikings veteran for asking teammates if he could buy their tickets, which he had hoped to procure for family members. Tice, one source said, accused the player of trying to "backdoor the head coach." Tice then successfully pressured some players to renege on their commitment and sell their tickets through him, the player said, even though Tice was offering slightly less money per ticket.
"It was always understood that if you want it, here it is," one Vikings team source said of the opportunity to scalp Super Bowl tickets. "There was nothing different this year about how it worked."
Sources around the league, including several coaches, said it is common practice within the NFL for players and assistants to scalp their Super Bowl tickets. On some teams, the income from the re-sale of those tickets is counted on by assistant coaches to supplement their salaries.
"A lot of teams do it," said an NFL assistant who once worked for the Vikings. "Everybody can do it. Every team has a guy who takes care of moving the tickets. I'd hate to see it end because coaches have always used that as extra money. Coaches do count on that as a little extra deal. [Team] owners will probably stop doing it now, because they don't have to give us those tickets.
"When I was there [in Minnesota], Mike was the guy. He had a guy somewhere who moved the tickets. I just never took him up on it because I was always scared I'd get my ass caught."
Said another coach: "Mike's the wheeler dealer. But it's just stupidity doing it as a head coach. Maybe the NFL wants to send a wake-up call about scalping, and they're going to come down on Mike."
Owner Red McCombs has been made aware of the league's investigation, a Vikings official said. It is unknown whether Reggie Fowler, who has an agreement to purchase the team from McCombs, has been told of the probe. NFL vice president of public relations Greg Aiello would not confirm if there was an investigation into Super Bowl ticket scalping in Minnesota.
"We're not going to respond to questions about what NFL security looks into and what it doesn't look into," Aiello said, "but it's against league rules to sell those tickets for a profit."
Tice, the league's lowest-paid coach at $1 million per season, is entering the final year of his contract with Minnesota, and his job security was an ongoing issue all of 2004. Just last week, in a conference call with the Minnesota media, McCombs said he nearly fired Tice during the second half of last season, in an effort to shake up his slumping club, and specifically star receiver Randy Moss. It is also known that Tice was in danger of being fired if Minnesota had not upset Green Bay at Lambeau Field in the first-round of the NFC playoffs.