To the casual fan, a particular three rows of empty seats blended in inconspicuously with the rest of Crisler Arena during Saturday night’s basketball game, which had more than 2,000 unsold tickets.
Yet, Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin couldn’t seem to stop pacing back and forth in front of those empty seats. Martin’s hands fidgeted nervously in his pockets, as he anxiously waited for those seats to fill, all the while trying to keep his eyes fixed on the basketball game between Iowa and his Wolverines unfolding on the court.
Occasionally, he would chat with associate athletic director Greg Harden or former Michigan running back Jamie Morris. All three stood out like sore thumbs, standing in front of an almost barren section.
But then again, 18-year-old phenoms can make grown men act strangely.
The worst-kept secret in Ann Arbor last weekend was the news that Terrelle Pryor, the No. 1 football recruit in the nation according to most recruiting services, was making his long-awaited official visit to Michigan. The University of Michigan and rival Ohio State University are thought to be two of the frontrunners for Pryor’s choice, and people all over campus spent the weekend trying to convince him that Ann Arbor is where he belongs.
After word leaked earlier in the week that Pryor would be attending Saturday’s basketball game, the Wolverine fan base mobilized quickly. Michigan blogs called for students and alumni to gobble up tickets in order to show how much they want the Jeanette, Pa. native.
Scores of extra media were there to cover the potential antics of people in the crowd, rather than the performances of the 10 players on the court.
LSA freshman Jason Robinson said he came nearly an hour before tipoff in anticipation of seeing Pryor.
“I came just to get a glimpse,” Robinson said. “Maybe talk him into coming here.”
The University also prepared for unexpected spectacles by the audience. The Department of Public Safety assigned officers to patrol Pryor’s section next to the tunnel leading to the locker rooms and truck entrance, and Athletic Department officials warned students and fans before hand that signs with a specific recruit’s name would be confiscated because they violated NCAA recruitment rules.
Censorship of students’ Pryor enthusiasm extended far beyond Crisler Arena, though.
LSA senior Chris Breece, as devoted a Wolverine fan as they come, saw his plans for an “Official Terrelle Pryor Greenwood Block Party” on Saturday night go down the drain in a matter of hours after he received a call from an NCAA official while in class last Thursday. The official’s message was simple and direct: Having a party for a recruit is against NCAA rules.
Not wanting to harm Michigan’s chances of landing the talented quarterback, Breece called the NCAA offices in Indianapolis for clarification.
“They told me it was illegal because it’s extra incentive for a player to come to the school even though we’re not affiliated with Michigan,” Breece said. “They got me in contact with a person from Michigan, who talked with me about it, because if we were to have a party for him and he came, he could have been ineligible to come here.”
“I don’t want to be a Steve Bartman for Michigan,” Breece added, referring to the infamous Chicago Cubs fan whose decision to grab a foul ball from the grasps of outfielder Moises Alou in game six of the 2003 NLCS made him public enemy No. 1 for the Wrigley faithful.
When Breece and his roommate LSA senior Steve Frey had created two Facebook events detailing a plan for a block party on Greenwood Avenue in honor of Pryor, they invited more than 6,000 people. By the time the NCAA got involved, 1,700 had replied they might be coming.
The Facebook event had too many confirmed guests to be scrapped altogether, but after talking with a Michigan compliance officer, it was agreed that Breece could get around the rules by changing the purpose of the party to be a celebration of Michigan football.
The redressed party went off as planned Saturday and despite the frigid temperatures, many were undeterred. Breece estimated between 300 and 400 people came to his place. Pryor was not one of them.
“The street wasn’t packed, but a lot of the houses on the street were filled,” he said.
Those three rows of seats were also eventually filled nine minutes into the game. Pryor, accompanied by his advisor, former Detroit Lion quarterback Charlie Batch, sauntered into Crisler in a brown hooded sweatshirt, two diamond studs in his ears and an ever-present T-Mobile Sidekick to text with.
He sat with his cousin, freshman wide receiver Toney Clemons, but also chatted with fellow recruit Mike Martin as well. New coach Rich Rodriguez and his wife, Rita, sat with Batch.
The Maize Rage promptly greeted Pryor with a “We Want Pryor” chant. Later they acknowledged all seven of the recruits sitting in the stands with a “Come to Michigan” serenade, during which Pryor gave a friendly wave.
Whether the crowd’s wishes come true remains to be seen. After the weekend, Pryor still wouldn’t name a favorite between Michigan and Ohio State when asked by rivals.com.
“They were about the same,” he said. “Big schools in cities with great fans and nice facilities. I’d say the visits were both equally good.”
Pryor reiterated his intention to decide on his school on National Signing Day, which is Feb. 6. And if an athletic director like Martin is willing to wait around for him, surely the Wolverine faithful can do the same.