Despite getting off to the worst start in school history and losing two of its better players in the process, the Michigan basketball team was finally in position to have a wonderful off-the-court story this weekend. Then the whole thing came crashing down.
As recently as last Thursday afternoon, there were more than 20 die-hard Michigan fans prepared to drive for 12 hours the day after North Carolina’s worst snowstorm in years to cheer on their favorite team against No. 4 Duke. They were going to attend Saturday’s game free of charge as guests of the Michigan players.
Then, less than 24 hours before the group would depart, Michigan “Superfan” Brian Groesser heard the bad news from forward LaVell Blanchard. Those tickets had been taken for other people to use. According to Groesser, Michigan co-captain Rotolu Adebiyi had told him to expect 5-10 tickets on Wednesday.
Members of the Maize Rage, who had been expecting to have at least some tickets for weeks, expressed disappointment and even anger at how this situation was handled.
“If (Michigan coach) Tommy (Amaker) wanted a lot of his friends to have tickets, that’s fine,” Groesser said. “He can take them all if he wants, he didn’t owe us anything. But why not tell us that earlier?”
Michigan had just 75 tickets available for the game against Duke, and as per normal, applications for those tickets were not accepted until just a few days before the game – Wednesday in this case.
“I’ve talked to several people, and everyone says the process ran just as it normally does,” Michigan Media Relations Director Bruce Madej said. “There was a huge demand for these tickets, and there always is when we go on the road.”
Groesser said the Maize Rage brought this plan to the attention of Amaker and the team months ago, and they also wrote a press release about the trip.
Amaker couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.
“I have no idea why things happened this way,” Groesser said. “Maybe Tommy was reluctant to have dueling student sections at the game. I don’t know, but that was the sense that I had.”
Maize Rager Peter Lund was looking forward to the opportunity to face off with the famous Duke student section, known as the Cameron Crazies.
“We figured that we would take some of the insults off the players by diverting (the Cameron Crazies’) attention to us,” Lund said.
Groesser, who did manage to swing a ticket to the game on Friday morning thanks to his good friend Blanchard, was hushed at the game by Kirsten Green, Michigan’s Director of Basketball Operations. Apparently, someone there thought it was a crime if a Michigan fan showed some spirit by trying to distract Chris Duhon while he was shooting free throws.
“If they didn’t want us there, they should have told us,” Groesser said.
The program’s real mistake was failing to communicate with the students. These ardent Michigan supporters made sacrifices based on promises from players – Lund even bought a plane ticket before the game, but watched Kentucky play North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. instead.
Despite the bitter letdown, the Maize Rage’s members remain steadfastly behind the 0-6 Wolverines, proving that their loyalty rivals that of any cult.
“We’re never going to stop supporting the team,” said senior Maize Rage member Chris Longpre, who watched the game in Ann Arbor. “I’m disappointed that I couldn’t go, but I don’t have any hard feelings.”
Groesser called the situation “uncharacteristic” and stressed that he still wanted to have a good relationship with the athletic department and the team. After all, Amaker bought the shirts they wear at home games, and he arranged for three buses – hopefully they can fill one – to carry Michigan fans to Evanston for the Jan. 18 game against Northwestern.
No one inside the Michigan program was ever under any obligation to give free tickets to anyone, but that doesn’t give them the right to alienate the few fans this program still has by hanging them out to dry.
Adebiyi, Blanchard and all the other players that worked to make this trip a possibility deserve the praise of this entire campus. While Athletic Director Bill Martin and Marketing Director Tom Brooks chose not to implement any special promotions for the fans after the self-imposed sanctions, these players reached out to say thank you to the people that stood by their side through bad times and worse times.
It’s a shame they couldn’t deliver on that promise. It would have made for a great column.
Steve Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org