Over the past several years, I have been extremely cynical when talking about the Michigan men’s basketball team. I’ve only been to one game, and I felt justified in that decision because, for various reasons, the team just wasn’t very good. But, after the squad took Illinois down to the wire, I stroked my beard and said, “hmm?” After the blowout win against Minnesota, I paused and said: “Wait a second, what’s going to happen when State comes to town?” As Michigan State came and lost I almost got excited. But then the cynic in me decided that every decent team protects home court and that the emotions of a rivalry game lead to fluke wins all the time. The realist in me knew that without beating Wisconsin, the then-imminent top-25 national ranking was not going to come. So when the Badgers fell to the Wolverines last Saturday, I had to finally give in and admit that this team might be for real.
It seems other people have bought in as well. Crisler Arena has seen two straight sellouts, probably the first time that’s happened in quite some time. There was almost as much energy in the building as the games during the mid-to-late 1990s that may or may not have officially taken place. The student section was rowdy, and the rest of the arena joined in with a little noise as well. The alternating “Go Blue” chant during opponents’ free throws was a particularly nice touch.
Despite the renewed fan interest, Crisler Arena still has a bit of a cold atmosphere. The Maize Rage does a tremendous job of wearing maize to the arena. The rest of the crowd – not so much. I’m not looking for a completely unified color scheme like the crowd at the University of Illinois, although a 13,000-person maize-out would be impressive. Rather, I’m just looking for the elimination of white. During the game on Saturday, all the white shirts in the crowd created what seemed to me to be a cold, unimposing feeling in the gym.
Speaking of the color white, the athletic department could go a long way toward killing some of the sterility in the gym by painting the inside of the tunnel and the facings of the upper seating level some color other than plain white. While I’ll concede that a majority of the sense of place in an athletic venue is a direct result of fan enthusiasm, there are a couple more things that the athletic department could do to make Crisler Arena more impressive. During the Brian Ellerbe era, television viewers saw a huge shadow under the scoreboard, due to the fact that Crisler is one of the few venues I’ve seen where the speakers are underneath the scoreboard instead of above. Someone has apparently worked hard trying to get rid of the shadow, as it’s almost gone. But almost gone means it’s still slightly there.
If money were no object in my renovation of Crisler, I would completely eliminate the poor attempt at a grand staircase on the East side of the arena. In its place, and in place of the grass berm on either side of it, I would build a large entrance atrium. It could hold a small team hall of fame, maybe a mini M-Den or a few more concession stands. With the concourses as narrow as they are, why wouldn’t the athletic department want to increase the points of sale? Now, of course, money is definitely an object and building a new entrance would also probably entail quite the structural engineering feat, but hey – let’s think big. I don’t know much about the bowels of the arena, but locker rooms and training facilities go a long way toward drawing recruits. And the word on the street is that, at the very least, the wrestlers’ locker room is in need of a renovation.
If I come off as being nit-picky or ridiculous with all of these complaints and suggestions about Crisler Arena, it’s because I am nit-picky. But all of these recommendations come with good intentions. In the future I would love to be able to turn on a game, or even attend one, and be impressed by “the house that Cazzie built.” I would love for viewers all across the country to be able to turn on a Michigan basketball game and be somehow impressed by the aesthetic experience. Now, I realize that the standard basketball fan isn’t going to necessarily contemplate how the large, white tunnel behind the North basket – and the gap that it creates – contributes to an empty, sterile feeling in the gym. But I think these things do matter – at the very least subconsciously. Does the wood trim in Cameron Indoor Stadium make the Duke University basketball experience what it is? Not really, but the wood trim is still there. Intercollegiate athletics are an incalculable asset, and having a prominent men’s basketball team can go a long way in maintaining the University’s status in the nation. It would be wise for the athletic department to consider ways to make its basketball venue more respected, because with that respect will come years of positive attention.
Betts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.