I thought I’d follow the Michigan men’s basketball team anywhere. And proudly, for a time, I can say I did.
To Atlanta, I went.
I stayed three nights, in three hotel rooms, with three different groups of people in what can only be described as a whirlwind of an April weekend to cheer on the Wolverines in their first Final Four appearance in nearly 20 years. And I’m no bandwagon fan either.
To Brooklyn, I went.
Why travel over 600 miles early last season to watch a seemingly meaningless game against West Virginia at the Barclays Center? Well, umm, why not?
To Crisler Arena, I went.
For four years as an undergraduate at the University, I attended nearly every game. My first two years, the student section almost never grew beyond courtside. And even before I was a student, I’d travel down I-94 several times every season from the ‘burbs of Detroit to watch Brent “Air Georgia” Petway — a future Harlem Globetrotter — throw down massive dunks for early-arriving fans while the rest of the team was warming up. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let’s just say there was rarely much to cheer for back when Crisler was still an “arena” and Beilein was just some coach at West Virginia University.
But now, in my first year as a graduate student, I’ve decided to return my season tickets because of the new student-ticket policy instituted earlier this year.
For those out of the loop, due to unheard-of demand following Michigan’s best season since the Fab Five, the Athletic Department has divided the season into six different “claim periods” where, at some predetermined time before each “claim period,” the 4,100 students who bought season tickets will have to login online to call dibs on a maximum of 3,000 tickets per game. Claiming tickets and missing games incurs different penalties. Four missed claimed games, and you’re out. No more basketball for you.
To be fair, this isn’t an entirely egregious system. The Athletic Department clearly did its due diligence, showing in a recent e-mail to student ticket buyers that several universities across the nation — including some basketball powerhouses — use similar systems. Anticipating backlash, the Athletic Department even addressed two alternative solutions. How fair would it be to disallow incoming freshmen from purchasing tickets, or dividing ticket packages into two different sets? Not fair at all, clearly.
But a third alternative, expanding the size of the student section, isn’t discussed until later. The University claims that a 10-percent increase in the size of the student section was already planned before the policy change, representing a shift from 2,700 to 3,000 seats. Those seats now represent nearly 24 percent of Crisler’s occupancy — admirable, to be sure. To justify their refusal to allocate more seating to students, the University claims they have other stakeholders — alumni, fans, donors — to account for, and the student show rate was a paltry 46 percent for the entire season and 67 percent during Big Ten play.
I’ve been with you until now, Athletic Department, but here I have to scratch my head.
For last year’s nonconference matchups against big-time opponents Cleveland State and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis — or really, most bad to middling games every year— you couldn’t tell me with a straight face that the general basketball-going population filled their seats at a significantly higher rate than students. Students, however imperfect, still occupy Crisler at a rate similar to everyone else.
Practically, a better alternative student-ticket policy would’ve expanded the student section a small amount — another 400 seats or so — for one year to justly accommodate students that purchased tickets under false pretenses. In this scenario, the Athletic Department could have utilized the merit-based system — students attending the most games get priority on the limited seating for games highest in demand — when appropriate. And with this season’s relatively weak home slate, I doubt that would add an additional two games.
If this system worked unsatisfactorily for a year — say, the University had to turn away students unexpectedly at several games — the Athletic Department could then unveil a new ticket policy next year before students buy their tickets.
The current policy — only a minor inconvenience for die-hard fans — unfairly punishes busy students who don’t make basketball games a top priority. Through both the bothersome new procedure and the associated punishments that come from missing games, many student will be incentivized to forego attending games. Is that really the way to build up a student section that’s admittedly lacking?
That brings me to my last point. In the e-mail, the University is adamant the new policy isn’t driven by revenue. But after analyzing the five similar student-ticket policies across the country cited by the Athletic Department, only one ticket price is higher than Michigan’s — and Oklahoma State’s $250 ticket package also includes football. Tradition-rich University of California, Los Angeles ($99), Indiana University ($120), and the University of Kansas ($150, who also includes football), don’t approach Michigan’s $200 season-ticket price.
If creating a more formidable home arena, which necessitates bolstering the student section, is truly the genuine concern of the University, then adopting new student-friendly ticket policies is an absolute must.
Alexander Hermann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.