Rantings of an avowed Michigan homer.

The Bigger House

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Michael Rosenberg from the Freep had a really great article yesterday about the proposed renovations to Michigan Stadium. This is something I've given a lot of thought to, and in the end, I'm sort of concerned about a number of things. I'm not the world's biggest Bill Martin fan to begin with, and after reading Rosenberg's article, I'm even less of a Bill Martin fan. He's a money guy, not a tradition guy, and not even particularly an athletics guy. In all of my encounters with him, I've gotten the vibe that he says things to appease the alumni and fanbase, but you know he doesn't mean it, and you know he's just going to go for the option that looks better on the ledger sheet. Which brings us to the Rosenberg article.

Luxury-box proponents usually make two arguments. Argument No. 1: Boxes drastically improve the financial outlook of an athletic department. Argument No. 2: Boxes don't affect the average fan. In Michigan's case, both arguments are questionable, but the second one is absurd.

1. I can understand this. And I'm not inclined to hate on people who have the money to pay for a luxury box. If you want to sit in a sterile little room with a nice glass window and have an awful view of the game and be completely removed from the atmosphere of the stadium and watch your ceiling-mounted television and drink your wine and cocktails and pay a fortune for it, go right ahead. That's your loss. And I definitely think that a plan I would endorse and accept would be to integrate such a thing into one side of the stadium only and have it be a part of the press box. More on that later.

2. Yes, in some situations, they do. Let's look at the last set of renovations at Yost. The VIP deck that juts over the student section, as I was told by an assistant athletic director when I asked about it, pays for a significant amount of the hockey team's scholarships. Conversely, it's never full, even for the big games. And it juts down low enough that the students in the back rows of the student section have to duck to see the game. Now, I can appreciate the fact that the deck is a significant financial windfall, and that it's useful for the hockey program as a whole, but it's an atmosphere killer. I've loved Yost since I was a little kid, but in the interest of money it's gone severely downhill in the past 10 years or so. It's losing its charm. I don't want that to happen to Michigan Stadium.

Granted, Fielding Yost designed the stadium with the intention of having a second deck installed on it. So all of these people whining about the loss of the "classic bowl design" need to take a little history lesson. Yost did not, however, design the stadium with the intention of having two absolutely gigantic structures being installed on both sidelines.

How large? Two structures totaling 425,000 square feet. For a comparison: the Palace, with all its atriums and offices, is 570,000 square feet. U-M's proposal is the equivalent of placing a large dormitory on each side of the stadium.

Is that really necessary? I don't see the immediate need to have West Quad built on both sides of the stadium. Ultimately, having these structures on both sides of the stadium strikes me as incredibly wasteful and fundamentally flawed. What I'm most concerned about in a renovation of Michigan Stadium is not significant updates to impact the highest paying ticketholders, but rather to make the game experience better for the guy in row 86 in the endzone just as much as the guy drinking boxed wine in the luxury box. Wider aisles. Better bathroom facilities. Concourses that aren't crumbling asphalt. No chain link fencing anywhere. Let's face it- Michigan Stadium, while large, is pretty goddamn ugly from the outside. Its charm and ambience doesn't come from how it looks, but rather how you're crammed into your seat with 107,000 other people. Which brings me to another point.

As I understand it, there's currently a decade-long waiting list for season ticket requests. When is that going to be addressed? We see so much talk about the luxury boxes, but at the same time, I think it's about time to install at least a partial deck on the stadium. If you've been watching the stadium renovations and the additio of rows onto the stadium since Tennessee and Penn State started rivaling our size, you'll notice a significant notch on the side of the stadium opposite the press box. Now, stay with me here. Wouldn't it be incredibly convenient to install the press box on this side of the stadium and drop elevators down to the locker room levels for the assistant coaching and support staff, and then build a deck where the current press box is? Put luxury boxes in the press box structure, and at the same time, increase the capacity of the stadium to the point where ticket demand approaches available capacity. Let's face it- it's going to sell out. Provided tickets remain affordable and the level of competition on the field warrants it. An argument for which Rosenberg asks a very vital question:

Will people pay more than $250 to sit by the end zone for Michigan-Ball State?

With the BCS system as it is, there's no incentive for a team competing for a BCS bid every year, as Michigan is, to schedule competitive non-conference scheduling. With the advent of the annual Michigan-Notre Dame series, Michigan is going to continually be scheduling lower-tier MAC schools and Michigan directional schools (Eastern, Western, Central) to fill the schedule. And, honestly, for the average ticket holder, paying out the nose to see Michigan have a 30-point lead at halftime when it's 85 degrees outside is only fun for a limited amount of time. There's so much said about Don Canham and his commercialization of college athletics, but I think we're forgetting one thing: Canham did it by marketing Michigan football to families. Bring your family to a game, make an afternoon out of it, have fun, and it's affordable. Nowadays, you want to bring your family to a game, for a family of four you're not getting in for less than 150 bucks or so once you factor in ticket prices, parking, and god forbid you get hungry and want to grab some hot dogs and Pepsis. Michigan Stadium cannot be unaccessible for families, and I really think it's gotten that way. You can take your kids to a Tigers game for a third of the price, if not less. And it will probably be a better competitive experience (especially these days) than watching Michigan beat up on the Michigan School for the Blind in the blistering heat. But that's more of a scheduling issue as well, with the incentive to schedule the easy win rather than the competitive team.

In Rosenberg's interview with Martin, there's two snippets that particularly stick out in my mind as particularly troubling:

Martin said Tuesday he is sensitive to fans' concerns.

"When Lee (Bollinger) asked me to take the job on a full-time basis when I was the interim," Martin said, "I said, 'Only if I can take down the halo. Only if I can take down the halo.' "

That is a great story. It is also a total lie. Bollinger, the former school president, said in September 1999 the halo was probably coming down. The school made the official announcement Jan. 12, 2000.

Martin didn't even become interim athletic director until March 2000.

Whoops! Bill Martin=liar. So, what's the credibility of anything else that's coming out of his mouth?

There is a perception that the luxury boxes will allow Michigan to immediately upgrade other facilities. ("It can help pay for Crisler, which is a major issue we face," Martin said Tuesday.) But any potential help will be many years down the road.

So, we keep dumping into Michigan Stadium to add things we really don't absolutely need, and THEN we can renovate Crisler? When Bill Martin strolls into Michigan basketball games using the tunnel entrance and struts to his courtside folding chair, he apparently misses the dingy, cavernous concourse. The, literally, antique seats in the lower and upper bowls. The horrid lighting. Crisler has all the ambience and charm of the Frieze Building, for those of you familiar with everybody's favorite University soon-to-be-demolished academic building/deathtrap. Why? Because, just like the Frieze, the University refuses to maintain it and update it. Crisler is deplorable in comparison to the Breslin Center in East Lansing, or OSU's brand spanking new professional-level arena. And somehow justifying that more updates to Michigan Stadium will mean a better Crisler arena- YEARS down the road? Come on. I'm not buying that.

In the end, I can understand the need for luxury boxes. But I think the University could integrate it into things we know are needed- a new press box, which is, above all, a priority. And a possible deck addition onto the Stadium.

We all love Michigan Stadium, and that's why there's such an uproar about this. I just don't want to see it get killed by a horrible renovation that will be too large and ambitious and will be a continuous running joke for the next century.

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