Growing up in Michigan, there is often no choice but to choose a team: Michigan or Michigan State. From kindergarten on, I had at least one Michigan versus Michigan State spirit day each school year. While the thought of 6-year-olds in green T-shirts trash talking other 6-year-olds in maize and blue T-shirts is comical now, the spirit behind these rivalry days is not lost with age. Throughout middle and high school, many of my classmates only became more unyielding in their opinions on this rivalry. As a senior in high school, I chose not to apply to the University of Michigan largely because of how pretentious Michigan fans had always appeared to be, as they often made sure everyone knew that Michigan was the better school. Now that I’m a student here, though I see there are certain students who find worth and validation in our school’s ranking above MSU, I also see many students who couldn’t care less about our school’s average SAT score or that of our opponents.
For those who do find significance in Michigan’s academic ranking, the week leading up to the Michigan-Michigan State game is their time to shine, and their voices always seem to be the loudest. From the “welcome to the school you could never get into” Instagram captions in years past to the posts like “My School Excels In MORE Than Supply Chain Management,” these fans have a knack for reaffirming the arrogance that is often tied to the University of Michigan. Emphasizing the University of Michigan’s academic “superiority” (based primarily on ranking) almost seems like a knee-jerk reaction. Perhaps I’m over-simplifying the breadth of college rivalries, but I’ve never understood why Michigan fans feel the need to bring academic ranking into a sports rivalry so frequently. If you think you go to the “better” school, why do you have to incessantly insist that you go to the better school in the days leading up to a football game?
It’s important to note that “better” is in quotations here because claiming Michigan is a better school for every student lacks the nuance that goes into choosing a university. Claiming the University’s absolute superiority over MSU assumes that students are able to or have the desire to prioritize school ranking over other factors in a student’s college decision. School rankings often have very little to do with what a student is looking for in a university. A student’s acceptance into a well-ranked university may promise a certain level of academic prestige, but nothing else is guaranteed. Depending on the course of study, scholarships offered and campus setting, MSU may very well be the “better” fit even if Michigan’s overall ranking is higher.
It’s no secret that college rankings are often based on SAT scores, which have proven to be biased towards students who have been given the financial and academic resources to learn how to take these tests. Given this bias, I don’t understand why certain students who go to this school that claims to be inclusive feel the need to so absolutely declare their school is better — an assertion supported by classist stats. There are plenty of reasons the University of Michigan could offer a student a college experience that is more aligned with what they’re looking for than what MSU offers and it’s painfully predictable, annoying and shortsighted to constantly say that reason is general academic superiority.
In emphasizing the elitist tendencies of some Michigan fans, I am not saying Michigan State fans are entirely blameless. Their tradition of burning couches escalated to a fan setting himself on fire and a car being flipped over this year, which is bizarre and unnecessary. In addition to setting couches ablaze, every single year MSU fans comment that Michigan students don’t know how to have fun or socialize, insinuating that being academically inclined and having a social life are mutually exclusive. However, MSU’s traditions lack the loaded bite Michigan fans’ comments often have; they are more unoriginal and annoying than they are harmful.
I was and remain hesitant to write about this rivalry because many college rivalries can be ugly, and in many ways, the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry is no different. However, this rivalry brings in classism and a relentless reliance on stereotypes. This kind of ignorance is damaging the fun of college rivalries and, more importantly, to the culture around higher education in the state of Michigan. As I’ve spent the vast majority of my life surrounded by this rivalry and its accompanying nastiness, I’m not naive enough to say I hope we can do away with the elitism on both sides of this rivalry in the coming years. However, I hope we can reshape the focus of this rivalry away from the crutches of academic superiority or an ability to socialize that these schools have so desperately attached themselves to.
Olivia Mouradian is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.