I’ve heard just about every complaint one could come up with about Crisler Arena: The upper bowl is too dark, the padded seats absorb noise, the highest seats are too high and the cheering gets lost in the rafters, etc., etc.
All of these factors are supposed to combine to make Crisler a terrible atmosphere — an equation that makes a legitimate home court advantage for Michigan almost impossible to achieve.
You want to know something? It’s a lie.
The downfalls of Crisler’s construction aside, when people actually show up and make their voices heard, Michigan basketball has as much of a home court advantage as any team in the country.
Yes, you read that right … but here it is again, just to be sure: When people actually show up and make their voices heard, Michigan basketball has as much of a home court advantage as any team in the country.
And on Tuesday night, with No. 1 Illinois in town, you saw that effect.
With the Wolverines mired in a six-game losing streak and Illinois demoralizing teams every game, there were all the makings of a national television embarrassment for Michigan. That potential disaster was even more glaring in light of three straight blowout losses for the Wolverines where they had played with as much heart as the Tin Man before his trip down the Yellow Brick Road.
But a sellout crowd showed up at Crisler on Tuesday and was exuberant from the get-go — and suddenly Michigan was hanging with the nation’s best team. If you watched any of the contest on ESPN, you didn’t see an arena incapable of generating an advantage for the Maize and Blue. You saw Crisler nearly packed with excited basketball fans. You saw the Maize Rage (as usual) making its presence felt all game long. And you heard ESPN commentators Brent Musburger and Steve Lavin having to yell over the decibel level in the building.
“You can’t beat this atmosphere!” Musburger said during one timeout.
Ask anyone who was there on Tuesday night — it was absolutely electric in Crisler. It’s the same situation that led Michigan through three NIT wins last year and to a victory over Michigan State two years ago.
And when you leave Crisler after one of those games, when the Maize Rage is packed and the nonstudents in the crowd get off their hands and clap as well, there are just two thoughts lingering in your mind: That was awesome … and … Why can’t it be like that every game?
Therein lies the problem. It’s really a problem that encompasses Michigan Stadium as well.
Every once in a while, the Michigan crowd is so loud and so enthused that it’s a major factor in the game. But most times, the exact opposite is true.
Too often, those in attendance simply act as if they’ve paid to see a play — they cheer at the end if Michigan wins, and maybe at the start, but for the rest of the time they just sit back and enjoy the show.
Which is what makes a situation like Tuesday night’s as frustrating as it is thrilling. Sure, it’s nice to generate that home court advantage when an Illinois or Michigan State come to town. But it would also be nice to maintain that advantage throughout the season.
Thankfully, the Maize Rage has ensured that — even for an early December nonconference tune-up against Podunk State — there will be some measure of excitement within Crisler’s walls. It helps to offset the thousands of empty seats, if only slightly.
Michigan’s opponent next Saturday, Michigan State, has seen the benefits of a rambunctious crowd, becoming almost unbeatable in East Lansing.
Illinois has done the same in Champaign. Wisconsin, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas have also seen the benefits of playing in front of packed houses every night.
And sure, to be fair, some of Crisler’s problems have come from the fact that Michigan hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998. The sanctions after the Ed Martin scandal no doubt turned people away.
It takes wins to keep people excited about a team.
But if the Crisler crowd from Tuesday carried over to every game of the season, Michigan would chalk up plenty of victories.
Chris Burke thinks that any Michigan season ticket holder who sells his/her ticket for Saturday’s game to a Michigan State fan should be forced to pay a fine. Checks for these fines can be made out to Chris Burke and delivered to The Michigan Daily. Chris can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.