If one phrase summarizes the state of the University during my three years here, it’s “under construction.” But more so than the hospital, North Quad, MoJo’s Marketplace, Stockwell, the B-School, the Art Museum and the constant changes being made to the Diag, the one project that encountered the most controversy is the addition of luxury boxes to Michigan Stadium. While construction will not be completed until 2010, I am confident in making this prediction: In very little time, Big House patrons will universally prefer the design of the renovated stadium.
Have you walked to the corner of Main and Stadium recently? “Impressive” should be one of the first words that comes to mind. From the outside, Michigan Stadium was never one to visually astonish passers-by. With expansion in mind, the stadium’s original architects built the playing surface well below grade. Only the top 20 or so rows are visible from the outside concourse. Fans never get the true Big House feel until they enter the seating area. But now, with the massive, yet tastefully Romanesque arches of the new brick concourses, the exterior grandeur of the stadium is catching up to the awe-inspiring interior.
After attending the spring scrimmage in April, two facts became apparent to me. As promised, the new additions will make the stadium louder. I expected the cheers from a half-full Big House during an exhibition game to lack gusto. Instead, I was blown away by the volume of only 50,000 fans. What really surprised me, though, was how much bigger the place looked. There’s definitely some sort of optical illusion at work. The new construction helped me appreciate how far away those seats across the stadium really are.
The biggest complaint I hear from those that dislike the latest addition to the Big House is that it will supposedly divide the fan base. It’s been said that such an obvious separation of fans into economic factions undermines the spirit of the Big House. But this argument makes little sense to me, because fan division in the stadium is already apparent. It’s obvious every time the student section is half empty at kickoff and every time the 50-yard-line ticket holders whimper “C” during the stadium wide “M-I-C-H-I-G-A-N” cheer. Are you envious of those lucky few that get to sit in the current press box? I’m not. In fact, I’ll be happy to see that thing go, and so will the patrons holding obstructed view tickets.
The Big House backlash is similar to the reaction to the closing of Tiger Stadium and the Silverdome. I admit, I reacted negatively when I heard that those beloved stadiums of my youth were being bulldozed in favor of flashier venues. So what that so many fans got stuck behind support columns at Tiger Stadium? Who cares that the Silverdome was ugly? If the teams left those buildings, I was convinced that the history and tradition which permeated them would be lost forever. But I quickly learned that it’s not the buildings that make the memories — it’s the unbreakable bond among players and fans. Comerica Park and Ford Field are improvements over their predecessors, and the passion and energy in them are as strong as ever.
The belief that the soul of the Big House has anything to do with how it looks or where fans sit is the kind of thinking that undermines its spirit. If a few thousand rich alumni get to sit in the lap of luxury, good for them. Their experience has absolutely no negative effect on my enjoyment of the game. It shouldn’t matter if a fan flew in from Los Angeles to sit in a luxury box or just rolled out of bed in Markley 10 minutes before game time. What gives Michigan Stadium its spirit is those fans returning year after year, more than 100,000 strong, to cheer the Wolverines to victory.
If I were running the show, I would have bumped stadium capacity to 120,001 and called it a day. But the Board of Regents — whose members are far more business savvy than I — recognized that adding premium seating was a great way to enhance Michigan Stadium for everyone. Some fans grumbled when the endzone video screens were installed in 1998. Now, I can’t imagine sitting through a game without instant reply. With more restrooms and concessions, better accessibility, louder cheers and a larger capacity, I can’t see fans disliking the renovated stadium.
Chris Koslowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.