The Athletic Department, in the hunt for funding for new stadium renovations, has floated the idea of building a new level of indoor luxury seating, a proposal that while potentially lucrative, risks irreparably altering the face of the Big House as we’ve come to know it. Athletic Director Bill Martin, in weighing different alternatives to offset construction costs, should consider the stadium’s structural and commercial integrity as nothing less than sacrosanct. Renovations are certainly needed, but they can’t come at the cost of the spirit and character of the Big House. Time-honored tradition simply can’t have a price tag. Starting with the University’s enormous alumni base, the Athletic Department should begin looking elsewhere for renovation funding, never turning its back on its century-long traditions.
Of the short list of universities with comparably successful football programs, few can point to stadiums as grounded in history and custom as the Big House. There are no advertising banners adorning the stands, no product plugs at each timeout and the only logo to be found is the legendary block “M.” And, most importantly, in the absence of luxury suites and sheltered box seating is a strong sense of unity and camaraderie. This sense is one of the reasons every game is a sell-out at the Big House, even in those rare years when the team struggles. Even today, all fans – from the lowly students to the big-shot executives – experience the game in the same way and on the same level, through rain, snow or oppressive heat.
It is impossible to deny the need for some costly renovations – more handicap-accessible seating sections, new concession areas, more bathrooms, etc. – but there are much less divisive ways to bankroll them. University fundraisers should zero-in on the alumni base – the world’s largest, numbering close to 400,000. Our season ticket holders, many of whom pay exorbitant “seat licenses” for the very privilege of buying tickets, would likely be willing to donate large sums. Furthermore, because Michigan teams will always draw large crowds, the department could float bonds and use future profits to repay them over time.
Some skybox supporters have argued that skyboxes and luxury seating will be long-term sources of extra revenue, unlike a one-time fundraising drive. This money, proponents suggest, could be used to further support cash-starved smaller teams and bring certain club sports up to the varsity level. Yet, these teams are not underfunded because there is a financial shortfall – the Athletic Department, which is projecting a multi-million dollar surplus this year, has deliberately chosen not to fund them. It is vital to remember that the University is an academic institution – athletic profits should not be a governing concern. The Athletic Department should not be trashing decades of tradition – not to mention one of America’s most historied stadiums – to earn extra money.
Since its gates first opened, the Big House has seen its share of spectacular plays, legendary performances and championship teams. But if there’s one thing that continues to distinguish it from other stadiums, it’s tradition: the endearing knowledge that the stadium’s austere, simple design remains essentially untouched from the days when legends like Tom Harmon, Anthony Carter and Bo Schembechler walked the field. For the thousands of Michigan fans who treat Wolverine football as a religion, that tradition is far more important than climate control and hors d’oeuvres.