An Interview w/ John Pollack of "Save the Big House"

Submitted by MGoShoe on July 13th, 2010 at 11:25 AM

Greg Dooley of caught up with John Pollack, the leader of "Save the Big House", the group that fought the university's stadium expansion plan and conducted this interview

Whatever you think of his cause (for the record, I don't agree with much of what he says), it's an interesting read. 



July 13th, 2010 at 11:28 AM ^

I can't get the link to open at the moment, so I'll have to read the article later, but that group seemed stuck in the past to me.  You know what they say, "You're either growing or you're dying."

Being the leaders and the best requires the best facilities, including the most money making facilities. Luxury boxes make more money than regular seats. 'Nuff said.


July 13th, 2010 at 12:29 PM ^

Everyone else has moved on, but he dug his heels in. 

I'm reminded of the addage that a leader without followers is just a guy taking a walk.  Everyone else seems to love the expansion (myself included), so I'm really not concerned about what John Pollack has to say.


July 13th, 2010 at 11:34 AM ^

Read the article earlier and he seems really bitter about the whole thing. I know it's the written word, and you never know how he really meant it, but man, that dude can't get over it. 

Back when the debate was raging I sent him a couple of emails arguing the point with him. The thing is, he would contradict his previous arguments every time. He came off, and still does, as someone who is against the project and will twist his argument in any way to oppose it. 

I've never met one Michigan fan who isn't happy with the project. I know it's anecdotal, but everyone I've talked to not only likes it, but raves about it. 


July 13th, 2010 at 11:54 AM ^

He seems to be an intelligent person, seems to have all of the necessary connections to be in  the know, and seems to be using arguments that could be very easily refuted if false. All of that adds up to me wondering what the status is on the sales of the luxury suites.


July 13th, 2010 at 11:53 AM ^

You're exactly right. I thought they were pretty full. Listening to him, sounds like no one's purchasing any. 

My guess is he knows nothing about how full they really are. If I remember right, the guy never went here and lives in New York. He probably has no idea how many boxes are sold. 


July 13th, 2010 at 12:03 PM ^

...empty suites and club seats according to this article in

According to associate athletic director Joe Parker, 61 of the 81 suites have been sold as has about 75 percent of the club seating.

Another Big House open house is in the works:

Rademacher said the university is planning another open house for later this summer when all areas will be open.

Stadium capacity:

The university has not yet announced the stadium's new official capacity, but it is expected to top out at more than 110,000. The original stadium, which opened in 1927 at a cost of $950,000, seated 72,000.

The stadium experience:

While the luxury suites and club seats have garnered much attention, it's the common areas of the stadium that Rademacher says are more striking. The improved stadium will offer wider aisles, more concession areas, more restrooms and the upper concourses will cut down on congestion. 

Rademacher doesn't think the new seating will change the Michigan football experience, but without it, much of the improvements fans notice on game day were made possible because of the elegant new additions.  "Those are things that we didn't have before and now, they're going to be on board for everybody," Rademacher said. "I think the general fan is going to have those same impressions and they're going to think, 'I've gone to other stadiums and they had this' and we finally have it here at Michigan."


July 13th, 2010 at 1:09 PM ^

I just checked that out, it looks like most of what's available is the "red" zone, Zone C for suites, Zone 2 for club seats. Not really surprising, I suppose, since that's the second price level. I suppose that people who can't really afford the seats or suites very well but really, really want one buy in the green, cheapest zone, and those who easily can buy in the expensive maize or blue sections. Very few people who can easily afford to do it are going to be terribly frugal and drop a zone to save a few K, and those who can't afford it aren't going to go further into debt for a suite or seat 10 more yards towards midfield.

Sgt. Wolverine

July 13th, 2010 at 11:51 AM ^

that the renovation makes it look like every other stadium.  I loved the old stadium, but prior to the renovation, its major distinction was its lack of distinction.


July 13th, 2010 at 11:51 AM ^

I was completely against the renovations before the project started, but I think it has turned out great. I lived in view of the stadium from my apt window and was able to see the steel and subsequent masonry go up. The stadium is well set for the coming generations o enjoy Michigan football from the best venue in college sports.


I'm still pissed at the removal of the troughs from the bathrooms.


July 13th, 2010 at 11:56 AM ^

I think they ended up doing a great job with the renovations, I didn't like the idea of skyboxes, but i think the brick work, details, new buildings (concessions etc) and other stuff they put up looks great. The brick and arches especially, fits right in with the rest of campus (except the hideous new Bschool - looks like it belongs in Arizona)


And I also am upset about the troughs. At least Wrigley and the Jug still have them...

Section 1

July 13th, 2010 at 1:15 PM ^

... I can tell you that I had a conversation with Bill Martin about it.  Practically every sentence was interrupted with some kind of laughter, over the notion that an Athletic Director was talking about urinal nostalgia.

And I can also tell you that Martin wanted to keep them.  He couldn't.  I don't know the details (it happened after my conversation), but I don know that it was an Ann Arbor and/or University policy on water usage.

The new urinals are water-conservation devices.  And yeah, they pretty much suck.


July 13th, 2010 at 12:00 PM ^

This guy doesn't really seem to know/care about the economic motivation behind the additions.

As long as the suites don't "cap" the capacity, and we can still add more seats if someone threatens our Big House status, I'm all for the boxes.


July 13th, 2010 at 12:21 PM ^

When the issue first came up, some of Pollack's main gripes had to do with the original feel of the stadium and the rich and poor standing shoulder to shoulder, which is some U of M tradition in his mind.

Anyway, I emailed him about this, and his arguments suddenly switched to U of M's financial analysis being off, and that the boxes would never pay for themselves. 

What it comes down to is he never wanted the boxes and pushed an alternative idea where the capacity was increased. Turns out, the boxes will pay for the bowl improvements (although the lost troughs were a downgrade) without increases in bowl ticket prices. Pollack's plan would have put the burden of the improvements on everyone since all ticket prices would have increased.


July 13th, 2010 at 2:11 PM ^

He said it himself, several times in the article -- everyone is entitled to their own opinion -- and he is just unhappy that his is in the very small minority.

Also, he often touts the "alternative plan" they presented. The current plan cost $226 million, but the revenue generated from the luxury suites and club seats pay for 100% of it. Their alternative plan would have cost over $60 million (their figures, not mine) with no way to pay for it because there was no premium seating to generate extra money. He then has the balls to mislead people by suggesting that the current renovation has forced some people to give up their season tickets due to cost. Their alternative plan would have had to have been paid for somehow, most likely through increased ticket prices for everyone.

It is also disingenous for him to say that Michigan Stadium now looks like very other stadium in the country and he knows it. Yes, it looks different than it did three years ago and he clearly does not like the changes, but Michigan Stadium is still is as unique as it has always been. It has never been perfectly unique or totally one of a kind. Michigan Stadium was modeled after the Yale Bowl and was largely copied by ND Stadium. The Rose Bowl is also very similar. Michigan Stadium has always been the largest bowl, but never the only one. If anything, the renovations make it more "unique" because it looks less like those other bowls (although ND Stadium and the Rose Bowl have added luxury suites too over the years).

The new Michigan Stadium is much improved IMO. And that is all we are talking about, opinion. He just refuses to accept the fact that most highly interested people simply don't agree with his.


July 13th, 2010 at 4:40 PM ^

You touched on it a little, but his misrepresentation was even worse than that.  Most of the $226 million we spent has had nothing to do with the new structures.  The entire stadium - every section, every concourse, every restroom - has been renovated.  The actual new structures only cost like a third of that. 

What the "Save the Big House" people refused to tell the public is that their alleged $60 million price tag was just for expansions.  It would not have covered all the other renovations, which were absolutely necessary (including the addition of handicapped seating, which the federal government required us to do).  Their plan, combined with renovation of other parts of the stadium, would have ended up costing about the same as the current plan - only without any coherent plan to pay it off.

Section 1

July 13th, 2010 at 11:58 AM ^

for doing the interview.  I think it was a smart and timely interview.

For my own part, I started out in Pollack's camp, opposing the renovation.  I changed.  The reason that I changed was because of an absolutely brilliant one-night presentation given to Victors Club members in the Junge Center, by Bill Martin, Joe Parker and the architects and engineers.  Their plan was brilliant.

And now we see Martin's execution of the plan, which has been equally brilliant.

Bo was the strongest supporter of this renovation.  I agree strongly with John Bacon; Old Man Yost would have joined Bo as a strong supporter of the renovation.

Let's go over, one more time, some of the bona fide concerns about the renovation.  Because Pollack deserves to get intelligent answers to his intelligent concerns.

Light.  This was my biggest concern.  That the new West-side structure would ruin the light on the field.  It hasn't; at least not by much.  Noon games (the proper time for games) are virtually all unaffected.  Night games go without saying.  In September and early October, most 3:30 games are okay.  Only in later October and November do the 3:30 games end up in shadow.  

Noise.  I really don't give a damn about trying to increase the noise level in the stadium.  For those who really want it to be noisier, I think it will be.  Eh.  Whatever.  Knock yourselves out.

Infrastructure.  This was the main point of the whole enterprise.  Not "luxury," not "money," not "noise," not anything else.  We needed more access.  We needed more bathrooms.  We needed elevators.  We need better aisles, etc.  The more this project has progressed, the more I am convinced that we achieved that goal in exactly the right way.

Architecture.  The beauty of what has been accomplished has simply exceeded my highest expectations.  The jewel of our athletic campus has unified the architecture of that campus.  It is both funny and revealing that Schembechler Hall now looks like the red-headed stepchild of the atheltic campus.  Its day will come.

Atmosphere.  The funny thing about this interview with Pollack is that nobody mentioned one of the biggest negatives about the renovation.  And it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything inside of the Stadium gates.  It is the new "Champions" level parking for suiteholders.  And that is a problem.  It is the next, biggest, most urgent problem for Dave Brandon.  Most if not all the premium seatholders will be afforded special parking, in what we all have known as the Blue Lot.  If they park, and then proceed to their suites, it leaves a social desert in the Blue Lot.  If they all drive in 15 minutes before the game, to get into parking that is and will be reserved for them, we will see a big empty hole in the Blue Lot.   Bill Martin and Brandon know very well that tailgating is a big part of the game day experience.  We'll see what a problem this becomes.  I think it will be a big headache, for the Victors Club (with lots of angry longtime supporters) and for the Athletic Department.  This is a problem they need to fix.

Fundraising.  Do not lose sight of the fact that luxury boxes are highly useful for special fundraising with special hig-end donors.  Every school that has boxes (most, now) makes use of them for fundraising.  It's a good thing, for that class of donor.  It will help Michigan.


July 13th, 2010 at 12:04 PM ^

I understand the strong sense of nostalgia that goes with wanting to keep the stadium in its historic form.  However things do move on and it is imperative for a University like Michigan to stay with the times in all areas, including athletics.

At one point in history the Yale Bowl and Michigan Stadium were considered comparable venues.  Both large bowls on prestigious campuses housing storied football teams.  Yale, for very good reasons, decided not to take its athletics into the modern era of big-time sports.  Michigan did.  Yale more or less kept its stadium as it has been for many, many years.

If you are ever in the New Haven area go by the Yale Bowl and consider whether that is the image you want in the future for Michigan Stadium relative to other campus facilities.  I don't think it is.

Michigan Stadium, with the incredible renovation, is still a uniquely beautiful place.

Here's to the future!


July 13th, 2010 at 2:13 PM ^

Yes. That is all it is. Of course, they used to wear leather helmets too and the forward pass was against the rules. Not all change is bad.

IMO, the current renovations do an excellent job of preserving the best parts of Michigan Stadium virtually unchanged while significantly adding to it. And doing it in a way that pays for itself was a very big acomplishment. Bill Martin deserves credit for that.

FWIW, all this talk about what Fielding A. Yost would have wanted is a red herring. First of all, no one knows. Certainly no one (not even his grandson) should claim to speak for him. Second, even Yost did not get 100% of what he wanted when Michigan Stadium was originally built. He had to accept some compromises to get it done. Michigan Stadium has never been 100% what Yost wanted and it does not belong to the Yost Family. It belongs to the University and, to a large degree, to the fans who pay for it and support the team every year. Our opinions count just as much as anyone else's.


July 13th, 2010 at 12:08 PM ^

Did he really go into a rant about the current recession and link it to the stadium....

Pollack:   I would say that the addition of luxury boxes at Michigan Stadium was the collective failure of the university and most of its leaders. What they did was build a monument to a past age. It’s a microcosm of the breakdown of the financial system that we’ve seen over the last couple years, with Wall Street overreaching, America going into debt and the taxpayer having to bailout the fat cats. What you have now are empty boxes that took a large subsidy and a seat license from the average fan to construct in the first place that even according to the university numbers, barely broke even at full capacity. And now the average fan is paying the price and it’s what we saw on Wall Street and it’s what we’re seeing at Michigan Stadium. It’s not so surprising because sports are always a microcosm of larger society.  The university leadership forced this through and we have what we have.


I was on his side at the beginning after seeing the initial plans. However, I am firmly in support of and love the renovations. It has made Michigan Stadium beautiful. The answer above makes question if this guy has all of his marbles...


July 13th, 2010 at 12:24 PM ^

Good question. At the very least, he is apparently pining for a nostalgic past that never was, (i.e. "unspoiled, 'pure' college athletics").

He seems to forget that Michigan Stadium was built by Fielding Yost to satisfy a public demand for college football. A paying public. It was always intended as a money-maker, not some monument to altruism.


July 13th, 2010 at 12:12 PM ^

One thing that I haven't understood, with the night game coming next year, and the use of portable lights for late afternoon games deep into the season, why not add lights to the towers?

They have been brought in over the past two seasons temporarily, but in looking at the most recent shots of the stadium there appear to be no lights...It seems cost prohibitive to bring them in for a game and then remove them...

Anyone know/ heard of there is a plan or reason for this?