As the shot clock reached six seconds, the students standing courtside at Crisler Center began to count down — from nine. When the buzzer sounded to signify a shot-clock violation six seconds later, Minnesota’s Joey King, having fallen embarrassingly for the oldest trick in the book, flinched in surprise.
The impact of Michigan’s courtside student section, the Maize Rage, was readily apparent Wednesday, and if Michigan interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett has his way, more students will be seated courtside in years to come, at least for select high-profile games.
Hackett discussed the student seating arrangement, the University’s ongoing search for a long-term athletic director and more in an interview with the Daily before the Michigan men’s basketball team played Minnesota.
Making himself comfortable in the courtside seats that belong to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Hackett surveyed a packed student section and outlined the basics for a plan that would selectively open additional lower-bowl sections to students in future years.
“I think it’s the kind of thing where some of the best fans would be willing to trade for their University and their students,” Hackett said. “That’s the idea — would you be willing to make something special for them, get recognition for it and get it back? But you give it to them for a game, for an Ohio State or Duke.”
The idea, essentially, is for season-ticket holders to exchange their seats in a coordinated fashion for select high-profile games, clearing out full lower-bowl sections to create a more student-driven environment. The season-ticket holders, in turn, would be relocated on a temporary basis.
The catch-22, Hackett said, is obvious — the games students want to attend most will be those for which season-ticket holders are least willing to trade their seats.
“The economic pressure was to build economic loyalty so we could remodel Crisler Arena (in 2011),” Hackett said. “So this is a paradox of the highest order. The students make the environment. … When I was here in the 1970s, it was a gift to get a ticket down low because the students didn’t really have seats.
“It was really limited — they stood in line all night to buy them. Now, this is so much more, but you see around the country how important it is to have that band,” Hackett said, gesturing to the half-ring of students who flank the court on Crisler Center’s north and west sides.
Hackett might not have much time left to implement the idea, however, as he and University President Mark Schlissel announced in December that the search for a long-term athletic director is ongoing.
Hackett provided no update on the timetable Wednesday, stressing that his personal willingness to stay on until a decision is reached has made for a relaxed and relatively low-pressure search.
“We’re right in the middle of it,” Hackett said. “You know, the great news is that I don’t have to fly out of here, so the president’s proceeding with great care and consideration, looking at lots of candidates. So I’m really optimistic we’re going to get a great answer there.”
Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins is the lone coach on the seven-member search committee Schlissel created in early December, but Hackett said he’s been receiving input from a range of coaches, both via Hutchins and through his own conversation, saying he had spoken Wednesday with men’s basketball coach John Beilein and hockey coach Red Berenson, among others.
Among Hutchins’ responsibilities is to regularly poll other coaches for their input, and Hackett characterized his communication with all Michigan coaches as a “constant dialogue.”
Hackett, of course, also maintains a constant dialogue with his highest-profile hire — Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh. Hackett declined to directly confirm reports that Harbaugh will move a portion of the Wolverines’ spring practices to the IMG Sports Academy in Florida, but said Harbaugh has relatively free rein in determining practice logistics, as do all coaches.
“Last year, he did ‘Class on the Grass,’ and I thought that was quite innovative,” Hackett said, referring to last year’s marathon spring practices, which were often as long as four hours. “Spring ball is a time where they make tremendous strides. … Certainly last year, they had a new coach, and they were excited about proving themselves. So any ideas that build enthusiasm and excitement are really smart. So you can attribute any kind of practice thing in any of the sports to the coaches.”
As Harbaugh innovates, however, Berenson is seeing success with much the same script that has brought him success throughout his 30-year tenure as Michigan’s hockey coach.
Berenson’s retirement has long been rumored to be imminent, but Hackett said little regarding the prospect that he’ll orchestrate another high-profile coaching search in the coming months as hockey season winds down.
“With respect to Red and what he’s meant to Michigan — he’s a legend, and isn’t it amazing, by the way, the number of legendary coaches we’ve had here? — I don’t want to diminish his year at all by speculating what his future is,” Hackett said, emphasizing that Berenson’s future is in Berenson’s hands alone. “The ceremony of his status is going to be very precious to me, so that’s why I’m saving the outcome of that question until the right time.”
Hackett did acknowledge Berenson, whose Wolverines are off to a 14-3-4 start, will have a higher-than-typical level of control over the search for his successor.
“Yes, it’s fair to say that,” Hackett said. “I’ll tell you why — Bo (Schembechler) did, and John Beilein is going to. What you have in them is someone really proximate to the competitive environment, what’s it take, the recruiting at Michigan, particularly if they’ve been successful. If you haven’t, then you’re adopting a different theology, so to speak. But here’s a guy that’s been legendary. I tell you, I love all the coaches … he’s a special guy to work with.”
Hackett and Berenson had to work together under the wrong circumstances this week, however, as the Wolverines continue to deal with the fallout of a brawl during their 8-6 win over Ohio State on Sunday. The Big Ten handed down a three-game suspension to Cutler Martin for punching a player already subdued by a linesman, a punishment Hackett said Michigan will accept without appeal.
In other news, Hackett seems intent on adding to his ever-growing popularity in his time at the University, as MLive and the Detroit Free Press reported separately on Wednesday that Hackett planned to donate half of his $600,000 earnings to Athletes Connected, an athlete-specific wing of the University Depression Center.
Clarification appended: This article has been edited to more accurately reflect that, under Hackett’s plan, season-ticket holders would change their seat location for select games to make their seats available to students. They would be moved to another section instead of giving up their seats entirely.