On a cold February morning in 2019, over 350 people line up outside of Cliff Keen Arena at 4 a.m., with the line stretching all the way down to Yost Ice Arena.
Despite being the wee hours of the morning, this is a typical game day ritual for die-hard Michigan basketball fans. Before each home game, the Maize Rage, the Wolverines’ official basketball fan organization, invites fans to pick up wristbands to gain guaranteed admission into the student section. The wristbands are handed out starting at 7:00 a.m. on the morning of the game.
For big games, like the Michigan State game on this morning in particular, fans show up early in droves, with some even pitching tents the night before to try and guarantee themselves the best seats in the house. This morning was no exception, with more fans showing up than usual to try and sit front and center for Michigan’s biggest home game of the season.
“Around 5:00 a.m. that morning, they actually announced that they didn’t have enough wristbands to hand out because so many people had shown up,” LSA senior Lucas Fox said.
Despite the early wake-up time, however, the experience was more than worthwhile. Fox ended up securing seats right behind the Michigan baseline, and found himself right in the thick of a heated rivalry bout.
While the Maize Rage has been around since the early 2000s, the lines at Cliff Keen used to be a relatively unknown practice. Few fans would show up to secure wristbands, and even those who didn’t would be all but guaranteed to sit center-court due to low interest, even in seasons where the team was fighting for Big Ten titles and advancing to NCAA Tournaments.
During the 2018-19 season, though, Cliff Keen became one of the hottest spots on campus each gameday morning. Fresh off a national championship game appearance, the program saw more season ticket purchases than ever before. Cliff Keen’s wristband policy became common knowledge, and scores of fans would line up outside each gameday morning, regardless of the weather or Michigan’s opponent.
“You can see the excitement and passion in anyone’s eyes anytime they come to get wristbands,” said Engineering senior Brendan Sulkowski, a Maize Rage member who helps run the wristband program. “Whether it’s 7:00 a.m. on a Tuesday or 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday, it’s the same no matter what. Everyone wants to go watch the game, and they’re excited about it.”
Over the past few years, waiting for wristbands has become a popular social outing among groups of friends, with many showing up together to secure spots in line and make sure that they can sit together.
“Being with my friends and supporting the team, and more specifically the student athletes, is amazing,” said Ross senior Jack Molino. “I love having a chance to be able to have these games as a way to bond with my friends. It’s so good.”
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic likely means that there will be no fans in attendance at Crisler Center for the upcoming season. Despite not being able to be in the Maize Rage physically, fans are still looking forward to supporting the team from a distance.
“It’s heartbreaking that we can’t be back in Crisler this season, but I’m interested in making it more of an event to watch a game,” Fox said. “I think that this year because there’s such a big disconnect people may be more invested in the team.”
The Maize Rage has been trying to come up with alternative methods to keep the community aspect of the games alive. One idea that has been floated is doing a virtual fan section in the same vein as the NBA employed during the NBA Bubble, though the most likely plan as of now appears to be hosting watch parties over Zoom.
“I’m not sure we can get the Maize Rage into Crisler,” said Engineering senior Nicklaus Snell, who serves on the Maize Rage, “but we can at least try and find ways to watch together.”
While the wristband policy may not come into play this season, it has certainly helped raise support for one of the University’s most popular teams.
“Three years ago, no one would have even thought about going in line at midnight for a 7:00 a.m. event,” Sulkowski said. “Just to see people want to line up for big games, especially in the freezing cold. The fact that we’ve gained so many dedicated fans is awesome.”
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