Progress is rarely popular. There was a time when our government needed to send in troops to integrate schools because the good old masses just weren’t having any of it. The will of the people shouldn’t always win, but implicit in that idea is the argument that it usually should.
When it first became clear that the University planned to install enclosed luxury boxes at Michigan Stadium, the popular uproar was swift and vicious. It became clear that at least a loud minority among the Michigan faithful see luxury boxes as a scar upon their beloved grounds. They see it as a smirch upon tradition, a sellout of the hallowed Michigan brand and an unnecessary embrace of elitism.
In a column last April (Skybox deceit, 04/07/2006), I sought to smash these arguments. I contended that there have been other meaningful changes at the stadium over the years (such as the installation of an ugly artificial turf playing surface) and this change would be no more drastic. As for the sellout of the Michigan brand, I pointed out that through corporate deals with Nike, ABC and other companies, the University had gone further down that road on many past occasions. And as for the elitism argument – well, with skyrocketing seat premiums, the entire stadium is an embrace of elitism.
Now, after seeing the schematic designs published last week, my opinion remains unchanged. While there may be others who faint at the thought of an 85-foot structure on either side of the stadium, I can’t help but think that they’d probably add character to the stadium – not to mention crank up the volume on the crowd widely known as “the quietest 110,000 people in America.” Some see this as a sellout of tradition; I am squinting and cannot figure out how this is a bigger affront than other changes that have been made in the past (I mean Tartanturf? Come on).
But, you know what? It doesn’t matter. Even if there is nothing wrong with putting in luxury boxes (and even I wouldn’t go as far as that) and people are upset over nothing, the fact that they are upset is enough.
There are times when practicality should trump blind idealism. We can debate the principles of a particular action all we want but after a certain point, the high-headed truth is meaningless. Even if there is nothing ideologically wrong with that action, if the majority of those that are affected disagree with the action, that is enough to make it wrong.
Certainly there are limitations. Although we deal in people and the will of the people should be supreme, our rights to pragmatic ease end where another person’s civil liberties begin. That is why forceful integration of schools is justified. But no such factors are in play in the University’s decision to build luxury boxes at Michigan Stadium.
As the purists cry for intervention to stop what is to them murder, the University can contend that there is no foul. I am one of the few who agree and see luxury boxes as an economic reality that, if not now, will eventually find its way into Ann Arbor sometime down the road. But it doesn’t matter.
A few months ago, I argued in favor luxury boxes, not because I liked them but simply because I didn’t buy any argument against them. Now, however, there is one argument I do buy. The Big House should always be the biggest stadium in college football, and luxury boxes threaten to limit further expansion of the main bowl in the future, potentially putting that distinction in jeopardy.
That may not be enough to convince the University, but another reason should be. I now see that I underestimated the popular discontent against luxury boxes. Perhaps even now it’s simply a vocal minority, but that seems less and less likely. When you’ve got concerned alums flying in from Maine and threatening lawsuits, something isn’t quite right. The University previously claimed that its plan including luxury boxes was the only viable plan available, but that is no longer true. The plan proposed by the Save the Big House group, for instance, presents an alternative that makes necessary renovations and adds 10,000 bleacher seats without the need of luxury boxes.
There are times when the people should win, and this is one of them. The fact that fans think it is wrong to implement luxury boxes makes it wrong.
Imran Syed is a Daily associate editorial page editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.