What's the deal with the huge empty sections behind the student section at Camp Randall? Are they doing construction?
Ok folks, sorry for the long absence from the posting world. The last two home football games were just not worth writing about for much the same reason that they really weren’t worth UFR-ing—namely, basically everyone that was responsible for any student section maladies is now gone. Sure, yes, Brandon was gone, but not with enough time for anything really to change. At any event, I’ll eventually get around to some closing thoughts that might still be relevant come next year, but for this article we’re going to talk about a different student section, namely that of Yost.
I’ve had hockey season tickets for a number of years, and in that time, Yost has always been a wonderful, fantastic, electric atmosphere. There have, however, been some up and downs. The renovation was a mixed bag: brighter, cheerier motif, more room, I think the foot stomping is more effective; however, the top rows have bad visibility, and the student section is smaller. Some of the other “recent” changes:
- Moving the student section around the bend: New this year, the student section extends from about Section 19 (behind the home bench) to Section 14 (south wall next to the band). Generally speaking, this is bad. The student section used to extend along the entire east wall (minus the band). This means less raucous Yost-worthy fans near the other net, it also means that the student section is no longer contiguous (more on that later). The reasons are likely Brandonian: side seats can probably be sold for more than those behind the nets. The only benefit I’ve seen is that it makes it marginally easier to get the “GO” “BLUE” chant started by bouncing between 17 and 14 rather than across the ice.
- Too damn much music. Not much to add here, choir.
- Moving the opposing parents behind the visiting bench: This is the one I want to particularly deep dive into. This has been unequivocally the most detrimental to the fan experience at Yost since I’ve been there.
- Making the student section just plain smaller: If I had to guess, this is a money issue, but not the cost of hockey tickets. I believe this is a cost of football tickets issue. If football tickets are stretching the bank, other season tickets are the first thing to go. Hopefully we’ll see some rebound here next year.
Why the parents being there is so bad
Let’s revisit contiguity. The reason that Section 17 (the heart of the student section) is so great is because everyone is clumped together; they can feed off each other; they can exchange cheers, ideas, etc. Imagine trying to start the wave in the Big House if there were a section of OSU fans in between two parts of the student section. Yeah, that isn’t working. For the same reason that moving part of the student section to the other side of the band is bad, so is putting the opposing parents behind the visiting bench. Worse, the (albeit minimal) upside doesn’t exist because the split up sections face the same way. So now we essentially have a core student section that maxes out at a full Section 16 and 17, which is loud and proud, but fundamentally limited in size. Compare that to when I started going to hockey games, where for the big games you could expect to fill the whole east wall with people who were pretty into it.
Also there’s utilization. Even when we’re playing teams that are nearby like MSU or OSU the parent section is half empty and the students aren’t even allowed to sit in the periphery. That is a full-blown, fully mapped DMZ that you better keep stepping through and not stop. So now we have students that don’t fit in Section 17, stuck above row 10 in Section 18 and a bunch of needlessly empty seats below them. And for what? So these parents can have some elbow room to look at their sons’ backs? That’s the area they want to be filming—they want to show the crazy passion fans have in promo materials. And now they take a picture and it looks like the student section abruptly fades to empty silver bleachers. Great planning that is.
Finally, it is just a fundamentally bad idea that has actually led to altercations and fisticuffs in the stands. I would love to have been at the meeting where this was pitched.
“Alright team, what if we move the opposing parents into the student section?”
“Dave, that’s insane.”
“I regret to inform all of you that Phillip will no longer be working with us. Does anyone else have thoughts about the move?”
“Seeing none, meeting adjourned.”
But actually, what type of sane human being hears that and doesn’t immediate respond “that’s actually insane”? Since the move, I’ve seen mortified parents trying to shield their children from the “cya” cheer. I’ve seen a UMass-Lowell parent push a UM student down the stairs. And just this evening I watched an OSU parent come up and jab a student in the chest. Fortunately—I suppose—I was close enough to observe the whole incident. From what I could tell the “instigation”, if you want to call it that, was that the student observed (albeit quite loudly) that OSU’s goal to make it 5-2 UM with like 30 seconds left would have no bearing on the outcome of the game (I must admit, he did have a point). What baffled me though was that this parent was not immediately escorted from the building, nor even the section. Worse still, event staff got on this student’s case and threatened to kick him out of future games if there were any complaints (despite nearby students asserting that he hadn’t done anything wrong). To be fair, most of my experiences with event staff folks have been positive, but I’ve also had a number like this, where one event staffer can sour the whole experience for the fans, which is a real shame.
Now, were there other things said that may have irritated the opposing parents? Probably. It is the Yost student section after all. But, really, that’s the point. Yost is a great place because the fans, especially the students, are insane and make it a loud and intimidating place to play. Putting the opposing parents in the middle of the students is asking for trouble, and that request has been answered too many times. It’s time to undo this tragedy of basic judgment and move the parents somewhere else.
For those of you who regularly come here looking for an unhinged diatribe against the powers that be, let me first apologize and recommend a different column. Thankfully, there isn’t really any of that here this week (ok maybe a sentence or two). I’ll preface by saying that I was away at an engineering convention last weekend and missed the second half of the Rutgers game, so perhaps my program ire/ennui wasn’t quite to the levels that many others here had attained. Either way, I found Saturday to be a welcome relief, not only that we won, but also from a general fan experience perspective. And this is compared to last year in particular, where the night game atmosphere mixed with general admission to produce one of the worst fan experiences I’ve had in the Big House (admittedly only until the opening kickoff).
Pregame: From the Football Student Advisory Council
The football student advisory council (or football SAC as some of their members call it) is a new initiative this year to get more student fan input on the program, the games, the department, etc. I have a few friends who are serving on it and so occasionally have the luxury of getting a feel for things yet to come (and occasionally can put that into print). After this week’s meeting, one of them commented that
“Anything and everything is on the table to fix this.”
“Where this means everything,” I replied.
That includes lower student ticket prices, allowing bringing water into the stadium, etc. So despite the chaos of the last few weeks, it seems that the athletic department is listening. Whether, and how much, they’ll act on it obviously remains to be seen, but it seems reasonable to be at least guardedly optimistic. Hunter Lochmann, the AD’s Chief Marketing Officer observed that he has never seen Brandon like this—that he’s hurt, and that he wants to fix things. Will he be able to? I don’t know. But if *if* he does change course, if he does
- back away from the relentless commercialization of the football experience,
- lower ticket prices,
- fix the “little things” like allowing people to bring water bottles in,
- work to change the culture from a client-provider model to a more family/community model,
- back off from allegedly micromanaging aspects of the football program,
- stop screwing around with seating policies, gimmicks, and promotions,
- apologize for the way concussion-gate was handled and commit to being more forthcoming, and less legalese-y in the future, and in short
- work to bring back the fan experience that made the Big House what it was for decades;
then I won’t be crushed if he stays. Do I think he’ll be able to, or even willing? Not yet. But I’m not out for blood, I’m not a mean, vindictive blogger. I’m just a flawed, frustrated human being—as, I imagine, is Dave Brandon. And I’m not above forgiving someone who screwed up majorly, as long as they acknowledge the shortcoming and work to correct it moving forward. I can’t, and won’t, take my name off the petition; but for me this is about the issues, not the person. And if the issues get fixed, then the person can stay.
I was explaining the above thought process to a friend as we walked to the MGoTailgate, which was a great tailgate experience and well worth the encouraged donation. He asked if I thought that allowing the purchase of beer in the stadium (as had been done for the Winter Classic and soccer match) would go over well with the students. My honest answer was (and remains) “no”. In the absence of fixing the real issues, I think that students would (possibly rightly) view it as pandering, and many would balk at the implication that students will be happy as long as they have enough to drink, actually issues be damned. This line of thinking was reasonably confirmed when I got to the stadium, which brings us to
The Stadium: Night Game Edition
Walking in the first thing I observed was that the event staff seemed to have a different air about them. Rather than getting hassled about the cowbell (which, mea culpa mea culpa, is likely still in the stadium) they seemed to be encouraging it. Further, they seemed genuinely interested in the signed photo I had with me because I had no place to put it prior to the game starting, and at least one was aware of the tailgate and expressed his desire to have been there.
The next thing was easily the most shocking. They were giving out free water bottles to students entering the stadium. Yes. Free. So maybe I can start crossing items off that list above already. Here’s hoping. Many students, however, were less enthused than I. Once in the student section, the pre-game featured (by my count) one “Fire Brandon” cheer and many students criticizing Brandon’s attempts to “buy them off” with “two dollar water” after paying as much as they did for season tickets. So yes, I think that many small steps may be viewed as pandering at least initially. That doesn’t mean that the department should give up on these small steps. There’s just a lot of damage to heal, which will take some time and a continued effort.
I’m reminded of the department’s response to the chaos of the night game last year: they handed out seat tickets when you checked into the stadium so that there wouldn’t be a mad rush to the seats. The problem: they did this for the Akron game, saw it wasn’t necessary (for the Akron game) and abandoned it going forward (where it may have been beneficial). I’m worried that we may repeat that with things like the water, which in isolation was very much appreciated. By itself or one-time-only, however, it won’t do much to fix all the damage that has been done.
Apart from that, the only thing worth mentioning was the occasional drunk student trying to get a “Fire Brandon” cheer started when we had the opportunity to force a safety (no, not that safety), who claimed that his 5 years here (everyone together now “get off my lawn”) made him the expert on the damage Brandon has done. But yeah, Zazu is right—there is one in every family, including the Michigan family. And there’s not a whole lot to be done except perhaps…
[Author’s Note: No, I’m not actually encouraging that. MGoBlog isn’t encouraging that. Nobody is encouraging that.]
Overall, from a fan experience standpoint, this was one of the more enjoyable games I’ve had here (though I have to admit, Norfleet was a huge part of that). Are the underlying problems gone? No. But it’s still a welcome relief to know that I can still go and support the players without enduring something that makes me wonder if it’s worth it. And at this point, that’s really all I ask.
[EDIT:4pm 13 Oct.] In my haste to get this out I overlooked one great occurence.
Before kickoff we were doing our usual "get the attention of any borderline famous person that happened to walk by" routine. One of these people was Regent Bernstein, who not only acknowledged our yelling at him but stopped to talk to us and was incredibly personable. After a bit of chatting we jokingly said that he should come join us in the student section. He replied "There's plenty of room" so quickly that we didn't immediately get the insinuation that had been made, but yes I do believe that the Regents (or at least Regent Bernstein) get it.
After a game where just so incredibly many things went wrong, it is a bit of a tall order to sit down and write something coherent about the student experience. The student experience, after all, isn’t so fundamentally different than the experience of most of the rest of the stadium, except perhaps that the viewing angle is increased ever so slightly. Oh and louder, definitely louder. The articles and write-ups note the students growing increasingly upset and starting to chant “Fire Brandon” (not “Brady” as some have noted; at least not from the student section) in the third quarter. This misses something markedly different from this game. In the previous games the students, like the rest of the fans, held their fire until some opportune moment. Last week it was attendance numbers that no one believed. The first notable “boos” came after timeout and clock mismanagement. This week, the students didn’t waste any time. Before the game even started, before anything had actually gone wrong, before we ran out of tires to throw on what little remains of the dumpster/tire hybrid fire, the students started chanting to fire Brandon. It reminds me of the scene from “Network”:
The students, the current
20,000 12,000 member block, and future 89,901 75,000 member block of the stadium are as mad as hell and they’re not going to take this anymore. With the “Fire Brandon” chants audible over TV, never mind to everyone in attendance at the game, and, by the third quarter, continuing every time the band stopped playing, it seemed hard to see how this once proud, once great, and once principled program could sink any deeper. But then it did.
For the last two weeks the student section has had the perspective to see the more frightening aspects of the game. Last week, many in my row were convinced we had just watched Utah’s starting quarterback die, or at least become paralyzed, about 20 yards in front of us. It was so shocking that the students immediately stopped celebrating the stop and became deathly silent, at least those close enough to see clearly what had happened. This week we again were witness to one of the more frightening, more horrifying, moments of the game. The students could see immediately after the leg injury that Shane was in no position to continue. We watched, aghast, as he nevertheless did. Then came the late hit and we watched Shane stumble into a lineman, and we watched in horror as a clearly concussed Morris remained on the field. We yelled; we booed; we screamed for him to come out, trying desperately to get someone to hear us and make the only sensible decision. It didn’t work. To leave Shane in like that was reprehensible, irresponsible, and showed such wanton disregard for player safety that it left many of the students angry, confused, and sickened. Whether or not Hoke was being honest when he said that he did not know that Shane looked wobbly is entirely irrelevant. As the head coach, it is his responsibility to know. If he doesn’t or if he can’t, it’s time to move on. Michigan has always been about the players, developing them into young men of class and character, and, if we’re lucky, perhaps some noteworthy football talent as well. What happened today was inexcusable for any team, let alone one that prides itself on what it does for the players.
The game then wound down. The anger and frustration of the last 10 minutes still palpable, but no longer being viscerally screamed at anyone on the field who might hear. Gardner’s solid playing in his time in the game, while helping reduce the ire at the outcome, did nothing to change the conviction that had been burned into those watching. To make matters worse, toward the end of the game two things happened on the sidelines near the student section:
- A dramatic increase in police and event staff presence.
- A rope being held along the sideline and end zone, presumably to prevent a field rush (??).
Did either of these things directly impact my, or really any other students’ lives? Not really. Nevertheless, the symbolism remains. One needs look little further than this to get a good grasp on why the students are so upset with the athletic department. Is the department so distrustful of the students that they want to keep them in line by show of force? Are they so delusional to think that the students would rush the field after a loss? After even a win over Minnesota? over Utah? over literally any home game this season? They’ve taken our water bottles so that they can sell water for $5; they’ve prohibited numerous innocuous items from entering the stadium; three separate event staff members tried to tell me I wouldn’t be allowed to bring a cowbell into the stadium; you can’t bring bags; you can’t bring food. And yet after all of this, they expect us to keep paying such exorbitant prices for tickets? To keep showing up? Don’t get me wrong, I love Michigan Football, I love the Michigan Stadium experience; it’s just that, under Dave Brandon I have yet to really experience either at the Big House.
My first game at the Big House was, like it is for many people, my freshman year. I’d grown up in a Michigan State house through the 90s, I was a Cubs fan, my high school football team went 0 and 9 my senior year. I was pretty accustomed to sports pain, or so I thought. Here I was coming to Michigan, the winningest football program and so things would be different. And for part of that game, watching from all the way up in Row 96, it looked like I was going to be right. Things didn’t quite go as planned in that game against Utah in 2008, and they didn’t go much better 6 years later, and as I sat in the upper concourse waiting out the rain delay I had a moment to reflect on where things have come since then and what has changed.
From a program standpoint, it’s hard to pin it. Is it the play calling? Is it lack of player development? Is it blown assignments? Lack of execution? A young line that’s still learning and has busts just often enough to make Gardner skittish? Is Gardner still living in fear of the ghosts of last season? And if so who could really blame him? Fortunately for me, that’s not an analysis I’ve undertaken to dissect. There are people much more qualified to speak on the state of the team and the staff than I.
From a fan experience, however, it’s lamentably easy to pin it. And after the third straight home game with a sub-sellout crowd, the students wanted those on the field to understand it as easily as we did. Immediately after the home attendance was announced (a 103k figure that no one around me believed was accurate for even a second) the students started a cheer. Quiet at first but soon growing to include much of Section 26 as well as surrounding sections.
“FI-RE BRAN-DON” clap clap clap clap clap “FI-RE BRAN-DON”…
In a game that will likely see some subset of the coaching staff placed in the crosshairs, the students wanted to make it abundantly clear that they had one person in particular they want gone. And to be fair, I’m, ordinarily one of the last to jump on the “fire someone” bandwagon. I was in the “give RichRod one more year” camp. Until today I was in the “we’re not going to fire Hoke” camp, and truthfully, I’m still not quite ready to declare that the sky is falling. Basically since the get-go, however, I’ve wanted Brandon gone. As much as we harp on “this is Michigan” and “it’s gonna be Michigan again” and every other thing about “being Michigan” every single game, the athletic department continues to demonstrate that it doesn’t have a clue what it means to “be Michigan”.
Up until the rain delay, I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t have much content to fill this out with. — The real people seats above the student section stayed empty the whole game #ThanksDaveBrandon. The student section by and large was on time #ActuallyThanksMichaelProppe. And the student section stayed mostly intact until we were forced to leave our seats. — Then the content flood began. We walked from Row A all the way to upper concourse to take shelter. We talked with friends from other seating groups and tried to take stock of the weather and how long a delay we were expecting. As the time wore on, and lightning kept flashing, and Grapentine did his level best to make each further delay somewhat interesting, we were getting tired and thirsty, and looked for a spot to sit down. By this point there were maybe 60 people in the upper concourse. Maybe. And the athletic department had already literally locked up folding chairs. Locked them to the fence so that people could not sit down in them during a 2.5 hour delay. Trying to sit somewhere, we asked if we could sit in some of the chairs that were currently going unused. The event staff person obliged and unlocked them for us and we started to sit down. No sooner did we unfold the first chair then we were told by Jim, another event staffer working in the upper concourse, that we could not use those chairs. We asked why. He said it was a handicapped section and—unfathomably, despite the 20 or so people already sitting in chairs much like these, despite them being unused, and despite them being unlocked expressly so that we could use them—we were not allowed to.
This is what the Michigan fan experience has become with Brandon at the helm—a, probably otherwise kind, old man telling the kids they can’t sit down. It’s not that they’re evil or poorly intentioned, it’s that at a fundamental level they just don’t get it anymore, or in some cases they never did. The athletic department has prioritized branding over winning, profits over performance, gimmicks over actually addressing issues raised, and as a result has driven the students—much of the lifeblood of the stadium experience—away. I recall a quote from the athletic department a year or so ago regarding the severe drop in student ticket sales where it was asserted that the students not buying tickets were the ones unlikely to show up anyways. Keeping an eye on the section above the student section through the first three games of this season it has become readily apparent that no one is going to show up for those seats anyways. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get students to take those seats back? I guess we’re trying that with $40 single game tickets that students are unsurprisingly not jumping through hoops for. I know his years at Dominos likely didn’t prepare him for husbandry metaphors but the adage “you can shear a sheep many times but you can only skin him once” comes to mind, and Dave just doesn’t know how to shear.
Preface: are things like they used to be?
Game day in Ann Arbor is an experience steeped in tradition. Nevertheless, the stadium experience, and with it the student section experience, has necessarily evolved, even just within my 6+ years in the NW corner. So to kick things off, here are some rapid fire questions/answers:
Flasks? Yup, though I will add that, at least in the lower sections, most students appear to have gotten less tolerant of drinking and drunkenness from other students. If you’re being positive and happy drunk, great we love you. If you’re incessantly bitching about the team, complaining about the players, generally being negative and happen to stumble into me, I’m getting event staff. And I wouldn’t be the only one.
Marshmallows? Uhh honestly I haven’t seen this in any season I’ve been there…
Beach balls? Have seen them recently, didn’t today.
Cow bell? Depressingly not yet this season. Other students reading this: we must fix this if nothing else
Travelling band? Nope (and I don’t think they have for a year or so but I’m not sure). Definitely remember being entertained by that in years past
International student experience: Very little experience here. I can say that in my section down in the row A area there aren’t very many (if any) international students. For the CMU game last year there were a small handful nearly first in line in the student queue, though from talking to them they were under the impression that the game started when the queue opened….
Engaged? Yes, mostly. It’s hard to compare to past years given that the Row A experience is a little different than that in Row 96… But the students are certainly no less engaged than any other segment (and for better or worse they booed the punt decision just as much as everyone else)
The clock finally wound down to all zeroes in what was a rather strange game at the Big House. We cheered as the team ran over to the stands and then back down the tunnel., the small handful of us that remained down by the railing packing up while trying to ascertain from the stadium police what on earth the rope sectioning off the field from the sidelines was for. Apparently it is for preventing a field rush. This year. Against Miami. With a chem lecture’s worth of people left in the stands. Ok. We turned to the people behind us,
“Have a great weekend.”
“See you next week.”
There, that right there is in a nutshell the problem that we had last year in the student section. We hear every week “how great it is to be part of something that is the team,” but the team is something considerably more than just the 11 young men in winged helmets on the field at any time. It is more than the full roster, the coaches, trainers, student managers and everyone else who could by any definition conceivably purport to be affiliated with the program. Or at least it was supposed to be. The team is supposed to be something that unites every single person wearing their maize and blue in that stadium, or watching it on TV, or listening on the radio, or running around with their fingers shoved in their ears until they could watch the game they’d
taped TiVo’d later. The team is the group of people in the stadium around you, who over the course of 6–8 games you got to know—those people who were as much a part of your game day experience as the people you chose to sit by. And last season the athletic department forgot that.
Given what we’ve heard or been able to read between the lines about much of what went wrong last season: lack of upperclassmen leadership, lack of cohesion on the line, or the many other instances of lacking “the team”, it seems only fitting that that disconnect spread deep into the fanbase. Instead of creating an element of the team, general admission pitted students against each other for the best seats in the stadium. The result was often ugly: students trying to sneak in late to get better seats, students yelling at each other, anger and hostility, lack of team.
This year things seem different. Is everything hunky dory in the student section? No. You still get the occasional person drunk to the point of falling on you, trying to usurp your seat, and degrading the fan experience for everyone around you. Fortunately event staff can deal with that pretty readily (especially if this person is in the wrong seat—as is often the case because, listen man, reading is drunk when I’m this challenging). But in spite of that, the cohesive, friendly, spirit seems to be back; at least in the superfan rows.
Unfortunately there’s been some lingering damage. As we all are aware with the recent struggles on the line, poor decisions from the past can linger for far into the future. During GA, the bottom of the student section was ill-prepared to correctly do the wave, or, for that matter, nearly any cheer. I naively thought that bringing seniors and grad students back down to the bottom would fix the problem. As today’s rather unfortunate attempts to start the wave while only up by a touchdown, and the subsequent inability to start the wave in the waning minutes of the 3rd quarter once we were up by 14, demonstrated, that isn’t quite the case. This year’s seniors haven’t had a decent wave experience or even good wave leadership in two years. Last time it went well they were in row 60; they had no part in starting it.
We can bring that experience back. It’ll take some effort and some creativity. We’ll have to re-teach them. It’s doable. It’ll be challenging, but for the fan experience, it needs to be done.
Seating Policy in Review—Take 2
So honestly, after last weekend, I expected to be writing about how we’d tailed off quite a bit from last week, how students had filtered in, but outside of student fans weren’t there before kickoff. Well by and large that wasn’t the case. While many, many seats stayed empty throughout the stadium, the student section filled in by and large on time, and to no worse a percentage than the stadium as a whole. 102,824 will make *every* section look empty. For what it’s worth, the new policy does seem to motivate students to show up on time, even after a dispiriting loss, even against an overmatched opponent. What the policy doesn’t do is motivate students to come in the first place, and to stay to the bitter end.
The first of those lies entirely on the athletic department. When our attendance is dropping to levels not seen since 1995, and student ticket sales dropped to less than ¾ of last year’s, it’s time to look long and hard about the experience we are providing for the students. Asking students who often have little if any income, many of whom are taking on thousands of dollars in debt, to pay increasingly outrageous prices for a lackluster home schedule is unsurprisingly going to result in a small, less effective student section. Not to mention less engaged alumni down the road. From those I’ve talked to who are on the new Football Student Advisory Council, it seems like the athletic department is now listening. Sometimes slow to act, but listening. Vendors selling $2 bottles of water in the student section: fantastic idea. Allowing people to again bring in unopened bottles of water or empty reusable bottles would be significantly better, and obviously the ticket prices are the big one, but it’s a start.
The second point is on us. It’s a culture thing and it’s sad to say that it’s changed as much as it has. I remember riding the bus as a freshman reading a Daily article (I didn’t know any better back then) that was discussing at length the tradition of students staying until the bitter end. No matter what happened on the field, no matter how bleak things looked, those who stayed, well you know. And those in my year really seemed to live that. Our first season was the fan crucible of 2008. We were rewarded with the Wisconsin comeback. We had our resolve tested with the rain, snow, sleet, and locusts for the Northwestern game. We were kicked in the metaphorical nards rivalry game after rivalry game. But after 2008 we were committed. We watched the team slowly crawl back to some modicum of relevance and it felt like our commitment and loyalty had paid off. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for those who started in years after us. The seniors today weren’t on campus for RichRod. They didn’t experience that. They’ve had the opposite experience. They came in as freshmen and we won a BCS bowl. Since then we’ve underwhelmed. I have to imagine that, paired with that underwhelming performance, past classes (mine included) failed to adequately instill in the younger students the same rabid fandom that kept me at the 2008 Northwestern game to the end, and brought me from row 96 to row 14 in freezing rain despite numb everything. We were absolutely convinced in 2011 that the pain was over, our fandom had been vindicated. Michigan was back. We told the younger students about staying at games and cheering Michigan on to greatness. It appears that we may have missed the operative clause: “no matter what”. That too is changeable. It’ll be a slow process of growth back into “the team” but it’s doable.
Bringing back the student experience is not an overnight thing; we need to give them something to believe in. And with a team that has met its share of struggles and with an athletic department that seems more interested in the bottom line than the student experience, for all too many it’s hard to find that. Nevertheless change is possible. In my freshman year I attended my first UM BB game. They gave us free transportation, tickets, pancakes and a t-shirt just to get us to show up. They did what was necessary to get students there despite the underwhelming performance of the team. Since then we’ve been conference champions twice, have gone to the national championship game, and have won 6 of the last 9 against once dominant MSU (who had won 18 of the 21 games prior to the most recent 9). That basketball team got back to greatness because everyone was committed to doing what was necessary to bring it back. If the football team does make it back it will be because of the same reasons. If we want the student fan experience to come back to greatness, we of course need commitment from the students, but most critically we need the athletic department to let go of the processes that aren’t working, to stop focusing on things that should never have been the goal, and to do what is necessary to ensure that Michigan fans are not only part of the largest crowd watching a football game, but that that crowd has the best experience of any crowd anywhere in America, throughout the season.