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Viewpoint: When did Michigan Football become a two-star restaurant?

BY AKIRA SEMBOMMATSU

Published December 2, 2013

I don’t care too much for hamburgers. But, like most other good-doing folks, I do appreciate a good burger. There are few things better than chewing into a juicy, medium-rare beef patty between two sesame seed buns. Credit given where credit is due.

I also don’t care too much for college football. Nonetheless, one of the main reasons for my attending the University was its storied football team. Just like a good burger, good college football is something worth appreciating, and Michigan football just sounded like the best of college football. The winged helmets, the Big House, Desmond striking the pose, the rivalry with Ohio State — it wasn’t just college football. It was Michigan football.

As a senior graduating in a few weeks, I’m thankful for the University. The opportunity to compete every day with some pretty bright kids, a passion for the food industry, a fellowship grant to study abroad, relationships forged with both geniuses and goons alike — I couldn’t have asked for much more from this University.

With that said, Michigan football has been the single biggest disappointment about life in Ann Arbor.

Of course, the losing sucks. The unfulfilled promises of Big Ten championships sting, sure. But what’s worse is the way that our program continues to rip off its best consumers: the alumni, the locals and, most of all, the students.

Again, I’m not going to stand here and pretend like I’m the biggest, most passionate Michigan Football fan out there. I’m not. But some students — a lot of students — absolutely do live and die by the Team, the Team, the Team.

Take my roommate, Alex. He’s a third-generation Wolverine, and he doesn’t hide it. Both of his parents have season tickets and have been taking him to Michigan Football games since he was in diapers. Legend has it some of his older family members, in order to stay mentally sane and keep their hearts healthy, now refuse to watch the games live. Rather, they record them, read the paper the next day and only watch if Michigan won.

Following, Alex is well on his way, too. He can’t watch enough YouTube clips of Fielding Yost documentaries and players from the 70s that I’ve never heard of. “Hey, Sems, have you seen this clip of (insert Michigan legend) from the 1981 Rose Bowl?” After wins, Alex grabs all of us by the shoulders and starts belting out the alma mater. The Victors? The kid was probably practicing it in his mother’s womb. During close games, he can’t help but get cynical and pessimistic, always expecting the worst, like a guy convincing himself that it’s OK that he’s about to get dumped by the love of his life.

Except the love of Alex’s life has been dumping him for years. He just can’t get enough. It’s all he’s ever known. No matter how many times she breaks his heart, he will continue going to Michigan games. In 10 years, Alex will probably be coming with his kids as his parents did, sitting in the seats that he was given with his “seat licensing” donations to the program. This is the story for many Michigan students.

All of this love for Michigan football, and what does it give back? A new general-admission policy with no grandfathering in of current upperclassmen. Weekly e-mails imploring students to arrive early to games so the student section looks good on TV. Endless in-game advertisements to purchase season tickets to other University sports.

And above all, an annual, clockwork-like increase in ticket prices. This season, there’s a $280 tab for a seven-game schedule. Compare that to Michigan State’s season package, which goes for $150, or the $70 University of Alabama charges their students. As for Ohio State University, we finally have them beat: their student tickets are $252 for the season.

And yet … the die-hards still chase true love.

I grew up in Boston. Back there, rabid Red Sox, Patriots, and other teams’ sports fans live and die by their sports teams. But the difference between Boston fans and Michigan fans is when the Red Sox started veering off their winning ways last year, fans stopped going to games. Some would call this simple economics: When the product stinks, demand should and will decrease. But Michigan fans haven’t quit showing up. We continue to drink the “Most Wins in College Football History,” “127 All-Americans,” “42 Big-Ten Titles” Kool-Aid even as we rush for negative 48 yards and get utterly steamrolled by cross-state “Little Brother” Michigan State.

Now, I do think the Wolverines are on track to get better. Better recruits, great coaches and improving facilities yet again should mean that my buddy Alex will have more recent YouTube clips to watch and should be attending a Rose Bowl in the near future. But what if things don’t get better? Why should students continue to pay five-star steakhouse money for some day old spicy California rolls from your local supermarket? Would you pay another $280 tab for a full-course Pu Pu Platter of Appalachian State, Miami (not of Florida), Utah, Minnesota, Penn State, Indiana and Maryland in 2014?

Michigan football is overbought. It’s past its expiration date. Like an Ann Arbor winter, it is served cold, dry and tasteless.

So improve the product. Change the price. Better yet — do both. But until then, this once historic football franchise will just become yesterday’s leftovers.

Akira Sembommatsu is a Ross senior.