Students are not the only ones concerned about luxury boxes. A scathing letter to the University Board of Regents last week from some distinguished faculty – including former University President James Duderstadt – expressed disgust at the direction of the proposed renovations of Michigan Stadium. The most controversial part of the plans is the proposal to build luxury boxes – to be reserved for those unwilling to rub shoulders with their less affluent brethren. The introduction of skyboxes into the Big House would be an unfortunate departure from the principled tradition of Michigan Stadium. University President Mary Sue Coleman and Athletic Director Bill Martin should put the Michigan brand and fans first by not caving to corporate interests threatening the very character of the stadium.
When the renovations were announced in 2005, the University claimed it was pursuing the construction in the interest of building revenue for the athletic department. Increased revenue benefits all varsity athletes, from football players to women’s crew, but the athletic department can find better fundraising projects that spare the appearance of a place as unique as Michigan Stadium.
Although the athletic department could charge thousands to rent out each skybox, these moneymakers could also result in backlash from the alumni community. Membership in the Alumni Association is already declining, and an angry alumni base could mean a decrease in donations to the athletic department and the University. The athletic department already holds the rights to one of the top collegiate licenses in the country – the block M – and could use the license to generate more revenue.
Fans and students are largely opposed to the skyboxes; University officials must remember that fans were right about the gaudy “halo” erected in 1998, and they may be right this time around as well. Two skyboxes taller than the scoreboards might funnel more crowd noise onto the field, but that is not reason enough to tarnish the appearance of one of the last of two traditional bowl-shaped collegiate stadiums in the country – the other being Notre Dame’s. The aesthetic appeal of the stadium keeps the traditional vision of Michigan football firmly in place – something President Coleman herself has publicly promised to protect in her opposition to allowing advertising in the stadium.
On football Saturdays, more than 100,000 fans gather to watch the Wolverines play – together in one crowd, not with a select few munching caviar as they gaze down at the proletariat rabble below. Such was the dream of Fielding Yost, not to separate the fans but to unite them in a “deathless loyalty to Michigan”.
The University is correct in trying to make some much-needed improvements to the Big House, which was built, after all, before the Great Depression. Expanded aisles, widened seats, more handicapped access and more bathrooms would all make that experience of game day in Ann Arbor that much more enjoyable. But building luxury boxes goes too far. University officials need to tread carefully this summer as they make a decision on skyboxes – or else the best collegiate football tradition in America may be forever lost.