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Lexi Zimmerman and Courtney Fletcher: Hurrah to the sun and blue?

BY LEXI ZIMMERMAN AND COURTNEY FLETCHER

Published July 18, 2010

Tradition. It’s one of the main reasons we chose to come to the University. But ever since we arrived, major aspects of that tradition have changed, especially in the athletic department: new football and basketball environments, a new sponsor, a new athletic director, arena renovations and now, a new school in the Big Ten. Each one of these changes has been met with difficulties as well as triumphs. For a non-athlete, these changes might not seem extraordinary by any measure, but they have a huge impact on an athlete’s everyday life.

Head coaching changes are an enormous transition for any team. Football and basketball players, specifically, were affected by Rich Rodriguez’s and John Beilein’s new systems and training methods. Luckily for us volleyball players, our coaches Mark and Leisa Rosen have been here for a while, and we knew the expectations when we came in. But while our own coaches didn’t change, the whole athletic department was affected by a strength and conditioning overhaul. One day, we walked into the weight room and all the machines were gone. Apparently, the focus had switched to Olympic lifting and free weights.

Another change that had a large impact on the whole athletic department was the hiring of Dave Brandon as the new athletic director. The previous director, Bill Martin, was outstanding. He improved the department’s finances dramatically and left a physical legacy by renovating and updating facilities. More than half of the athletic teams on campus owe their state-of-the-art arenas to him. With the announcement of his retirement came the question of his predecessor: what changes would be made, what the new focus would be, how it would affect the department, etc. But so far David Brandon has been nothing but a positive force in balancing the University’s tradition with a businessman’s perspective.

The shift from Nike to Adidas was also a huge change. For fans, seeing a different symbol on a jersey isn’t anything special, but for athletes it’s a big adjustment. Sizes, fit, comfort, color and durability are all crucial to being able to play your sport well. With Nike, every team had figured out what they liked and disliked, and they could make small adjustments in their gear from year to year. But Adidas specializes in soccer and football gear, so things like volleyball shoes and jerseys presented new challenges.

Nike also copyrighted the color “Maize,” so Adidas actually had to make a new version of our school color, now known as “Sun” (which the volleyball team has affectionately dubbed the “highlighter” jerseys). While the switch has become progressively easier throughout the past two years, it’s come with growing pains.

The most exciting and expensive change has been the addition of box seats in the Big House. Michigan has regained the claim to the largest stadium in college football, the field will be 30 percent louder and the Big House intimidating presence is now on a whole new scale. Some of the renovations were structurally necessary, but some were for added revenue. This proves, once again, that the University is always striving to be bigger and better than the competition.

Lastly is the newest change: the addition of the University of Nebraska to the Big Ten. The switch was, of course, motivated by profit for the schools and television networks, but it is the athletes who are ultimately affected most. Nebraska is not just another opponent on the schedule — it’s a complete change in our lives. On the surface, it creates one more week of travel. That means more missed classes, more money spent on travel and more stress.

Another question is how Nebraska will fit in with the Big Ten. Their athletic department has proven to be strong, so the level of competition will be on par with everyone else. But it remains to be seen if their academic standards can mesh with that of the Big Ten’s. So far, though, it appears our conference will not be hugely affected by the addition. At the same time, it’s a huge benefit to Nebraska, and the Big 12 was greatly hurt by the loss.

Though there are always uncertainties when it comes to change, all of these new people, projects and partners seem to be moving the University Athletic Department into a new era. There is a strong respect for the past and the foundation that we were built on, with an understanding that we must evolve in order to stay the leaders and best. The block ‘M’ will always be a powerful symbol of the past, but we must also embrace the changes now being made in order to help Wolverine athletics stay on top in the future.

Lexi Zimmerman can be reached at lexizimm@umich.edu. Courtney Fletcher can be reached at fletchco@umich.edu.