When fans returned to Michigan Stadium in 1998, they were greeted with an unseemly maize and blue halo encircling the stadium. Met with an outpouring of anger, this addition to the historic venue was quickly sent to the scrap heap. Now, the athletic department is considering an extensive renovation of the Big House, including the addition of luxury boxes. While some renovations are necessary, if history has taught the department anything it is that they must be done tastefully so as not to tarnish the proud tradition of Michigan football.

Angela Cesere

Though neither University President Mary Sue Coleman nor Athletic Director Bill Martin were around for the halo debacle in 1998, there is still cause for concern about the proposed renovations. Martin, who comes from a business background, has worked to raise the amount of money donors are giving to the athletic department, which has provided funding for new facilities and for nonrevenue athletic teams. While these are important accomplishments, Martin also initially supported a plan to slap a corporate name on the annual Michigan-Ohio State rivalry game. Thankfully, Coleman stepped in and stopped the unpopular deal with SBC Communications, but the near-miss showed a dangerous commercial focus within the athletic department.

Some of the proposed renovations are certainly necessary. Widening the aisles, improving concession and bathroom facilities and addressing some of the growing safety issues of the venue will undoubtedly make Michigan football games a better and safer experience for all fans. The real concern lies in the proposal to add luxury boxes, which the athletic department euphemistically refers to as “enclosed seating.”

Michigan Stadium is steeped in tradition, and it will be difficult to accommodate luxury boxes while maintaining the stadium’s atmosphere. As any fan knows, part of the appeal of a game at the Big House is sharing the experience with 110,000 other fans. If fans are afraid of the early September sun or late November chill and wish to enjoy a Michigan game on a television from the climate-controlled comfort of a couch, they can easily do so at home — not in a $50,000-per-year box within the stadium itself.

Though many fans would shun the niceties of a luxury box, there nonetheless exists a viable market for such upper-crust sanctuaries. Admittedly, these boxes could have a positive effect by paying for the stadium renovations and providing funding for sports that do not generate revenue. In fact, they may be necessary to carry out the renovations without an unacceptable increase in ticket prices. Nevertheless, if the plans to renovate the stadium go forward, the luxury boxes must be built discretely so as not to detract from the stadium’s overall architecture.

To preserve the traditions of Michigan football, it is absolutely essential that the renovations proceed without the commercialization of the Big House. Corporations buying luxury boxes often expect to announce their presence with a corporate logo facing the crowd. This cannot be permitted. The Big House is one of the few sports venues free from obtrusive advertising, and it must remain non-commercial after the renovations.

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