CLEMSON — Dan Radakovich was meeting with Clemson's Board of Trustees recently, and after finishing his presentation he asked the usual question.
"I got done with my little dog and pony show and I asked, 'Any questions?'" Clemson's athletic director said.
The response from the university's most powerful group of movers and shakers was immediate, and it wasn't a question.
'"Yes," they said, "Fill the Hill!"
They had some frustrations, and Radakovich felt it.
"When your bosses tell you to fill the Hill," Radakovich continued, "That's kind of what's on your priority list."
And so that has been a large part of what Clemson's athletic department has been up to this offesason.
The Hill is the area inside Memorial Stadium where Howard's Rock sits and the football team enters the field for games. Located in the stadium's east side, the Hill is directly behind an end zone and is the quintessential student section area.
Because of its uniqueness, the Hill is desirable. Because of its location, it is on national television often — half of the time a team kicks a field goal or an extra point, the Hill is the backdrop of that camera shot. It makes sense then, that the university's board was frustrated and likely embarrassed in 2017 when student-Hill attendance was noticeably low.
Students were accepting tickets and then not showing up for games, which became a bigger issue because of the number of students who wanted tickets but missed out. At some games, Clemson students showed up but left early — something that certainly was not lost on coach Dabo Swinney and his players.
For Clemson individual home games in 2017, there were 3,000 tickets each allotted to students on the Hill, but on multiple occasions when it was time to actually use those tickets, the numbers told a different story.
Of the 3,000 students who received a Hill ticket to the season opener against Kent State, 2,444 actually attended the game. That number was higher for the Auburn game, coming in at 2,713, but the Boston College game only had 2,062 students on the Hill. The Wake Forest game had just 1,539 — barely half of the allotment.
As a result, frustration brewed when it became evident that the indifferent students still had an equal chance of obtaining tickets as the dedicated ones who would plan to show up and not leave early.
Radakovich said the issue has become a hot-button topic not only for the athletic department, but also for students and alumni. He expressed confidence that a solution would be found.
"Mason Foley, the new student body president, has been fantastic. He and his team worked with (deputy athletic director) Graham (Neff) a lot over the spring semester and we're looking at some different entry options, some other types of processes to make sure that we get the tickets in the hands of the students that desire them," Radakovich said. "To do that, that probably indicates a process change that we're close to having done and approved by the students and everyone on campus."
Foley, a management major from Nashville, was elected in March by his peers, and if Neff had to put a number on it, he estimates Foley has met with him on a bi-weekly basis since his election. Together, the athletic department has worked with Foley and his cabinet, which includes an appointed athletics chairman.
Ultimately, the goal is simple: find a way to ensure the most passionate Clemson students receive the tickets. While many Clemson students have been quick to point the finger at the athletic department, these new improvements will be set by the students and for the students.
"This isn’t (Radakovich's) new ticketing plan. This is germinated from student leadership that athletics is helping to put in place," Neff said. "It's important that it is student led and that it is student leadership very much involved in the input versus, 'Oh, here's the athletic department's student ticketing plan.' We wanted to help enact the desire of the student leadership, who is acting on behalf of the student body.
"We're just trying to pick the (plan) that fits Clemson best and gets the tickets in the hands of the right students."
Maybe then, the Hill will be full.