By Austen Hufford, Online Editor
Published August 31, 2013
It started with a trickle.
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At 7:20 a.m., there were 16. At 9:20 a.m. there were 41. Around 100 by 11 a.m. All standing or sitting, talking or napping, playing cards or watching ESPN on an 18-foot TV in a line of mostly empty gated spaces. All waiting to enter the Big House and be in the front rows for the Michigan football season opener against Central Michigan.
For the first game of general-admission student tickets in Michigan football history, no one knew what to expect. Was it the end of Football Saturday pregames? Would students not buy tickets? Would hundreds camp out overnight like they did when President Barack Obama came to speak?
The Athletic Department overestimated the number of students who would show up very early. The gates were too long, the private security guards were too many — 20 as of 7 a.m. — and too much free Pizza House pizza was given out to the small group of waiting students.
A private security guard said he thought there would be more people. “It’s 10 o’clock, man,” he said. “Where is everyone?”
Very few students arrived before noon. But soon, they started coming in droves.
The four chutes labeled H, O, K and E were opened at 11:45 a.m., and the stadium student gates were opened at 12:35 p.m. Students were given a wristband (complete with a bank advertisement) to be granted access to the first 22 rows. Once those rows were filled, the newly arriving students were given a general-admission ticket.
The growing crowd was easygoing and no one seemed drunk — very different than the lower bowl at games in prior years. Radio-friendly songs were played, some students danced on their seats and simple contests were held: a tricycle race across the field, a guess the Michigan legend on the billboard and a field-goal contest for an iPad. Simple things kept the crowd from going crazy during the wait.
As of 1:20 p.m., only the first 14 rows of student seating were filled, so superb seats were still up for grabs. The first rows were filled with a younger crowd — lots of freshmen and sophomores — in a space previously held by upperclassmen.
An hour before kickoff, the student bowl was more than half full. The general-admission policy seemed to be a success. They had convinced students to show up to a game not only before kickoff, but an entire hour before. The few students at 7 a.m. had turned into a horde of fans by 2:30 p.m.
Athletic Department Chief Marketing Officer Hunter Lochmann said Saturday morning that one reason for general admission was to “create an atmosphere” for coach Brady Hoke by kickoff. That had certainly been accomplished.
After the game, Hoke mentioned how cool it was to have the section full during warmups and how much he appreciated that from the students.
However, everything wasn’t perfect. The normally packed or beyond capacity lower bowl was filled but not crazily so. From a faraway camera, it looked complete, but on the ground there were empty seats and everyone had plenty of room — certainly not the norm in previous games.
The traditional hierarchy of seniors in the front, freshman at the back has been destroyed. Classes were mixed together and some traditions were certainly lacking in the front rows: students were not thrown up in the air after a Michigan score. This only occurred in the back.
Traditions will still get passed down from class to class, but it will be more complicated.
About an hour before kickoff a group of younger students tried to start a wave. Other students started to join the effort, even though the non-student sections of the stadium were not filled.
An older student yelled, “The wave is for the third quarter.”
The others stopped.