It was a scene unfamiliar to Ann Arborites. There were American flags being waved around, fireworks exploding to cheers from onlookers and a general excitement in a nighttime setting.
No, this wasn’t a Fourth of July celebration, though I guess Ann Arbor could look into getting one of those, too.
This was a football game, and an environment Michigan football fans definitely miss out on for games at the Big House.
Early Saturday night, Memorial Stadium was rocking. A unified group of fans supplied deafening roars and there was an immeasurable excitement throughout the crowd before the opening kickoff even took place.
What was the difference? Is Memorial Stadium set up better than Michigan Stadium? Hardly. The Big House holds 40,000 more fans, and Memorial Stadium had even fewer people than its capacity because of ongoing renovations.
Did their fans have more to cheer for than Michigan would have if it was at Michigan Stadium? No. The game was equally important to both teams, considering a loss for either would put a huge damper on their Big Ten Championship hopes.
The biggest difference had nothing to do with physical structures or how much the fans cared (though it was refreshing to see a crowd wearing one unified color instead of the grab bag of colors I’ve seen in the Big House all six home games this season).
It was nighttime.
Night game. Remember those? For seniors like myself, contests like the Michigan State game our freshman year may ring a bell. Are you a junior? How about the Penn State game? Neither of those were true night games, but they ended well after the sun went away and the drama unfolded under the lights. Remember that feeling? Now multiply that by three.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr may hate night games, and at least some of the higher ups in the Athletic Department feel the same way. But it’s impossible to ignore the excitement that night games bring to a campus.
Students are generally more excited for the nighttime match-ups. It makes the anticipation even greater for games, and primetime television certainly is great exposure for programs (especially ones trying to erase recent embarrassing losses from people’s memories). Potential recruits are much more likely to watch a game available all over the nation than something that’s nearly impossible to locate (cough, Big Ten Network).
Sure, there are downsides to night games. Temporary lights need to be brought in, and that costs money. Players also have to adjust to playing at unfamiliar times and sitting around all day to wait and play. Then there’s the alcohol issue. Students are much more likely to show up wasted at a game that kicks off at night instead of noon. But why can’t compromises be made? In Wisconsin’s primetime night-game earlier this season, students were randomly breathalyzed at the games.
Now I’m not going to say targeting lots of drunk kids is a good idea, but maybe there are some sacrifices that could make the Michigan Stadium experience both more enjoyable for fans and more intimidating for visiting teams.
This won’t happen overnight – it’s certainly tough to change long-standing traditions when people in power do things “Because that’s how we’ve always done it.”
But for a program whose stadium and fanbase is consistently called out for being incredibly overrated, maybe it’s a step worth taking.
– Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.