I once knew a Michigan coach that was fond of reminding media-types exactly what they were dealing with.
“You have to remember,” he would say, “these are kids.”
That would have made me, sitting there with my recorder, also a kid. I thought that was fair enough.
It was intended as some kind of disclaimer “don”t expect too much,” or something to that effect.
That”s a stigma that I”d more or less tacitly agreed to most of my life. Around the time I enrolled at this university, it went without saying that expectations of my peers and me were implicitly lower.
Sure, we could “play a great game” or “put on a great show” considering. Considering we were just kids, students, whatever.
In a way, it was comforting. It gave you a little wiggle room, lowered the standards a bit, and didn”t subtract any points.
It was a perk of youth that I figured extended at least through college after all, I”d been hearing about the joys of “being a college kid” for years.
But as I became a part of the University, I began to notice subtle changes in the way my peers behaved. The wiggle room that everybody knew existed was still available, but people were inadvertently pushing it aside.
The first example seemed unique. The men that constructed a perfect football season the autumn of my freshman year were, I figured, a notch above the rest of us. But the spirit that promoted such excellence, I found, seemed to permeate the entire campus.
It was an attitude, if nothing else. I watched as it turned up in every aspect of Michigan life from athletic performance to musical performance to dramatic performance to academic performance. And allowing yourself to consistently be impressed even amazed by your friends eventually leads you to raise your own expectations.
This past weekend, as I sat on the floor of a sound-stage-turned-theatre watching the student-produced play “Philadelphia, Here I Come,”” I realized that the disclaimer I had adhered to for so many years had dissolved completely. The students had given a masterful performance. Period. There was no need to apply a special standard, no need to lower expectations.
Maybe that journey from disclaimers to expectations of excellence maybe that”s college.
From everything I”d been taught, it is certainly Michigan.
Which is why a statement coming from the Athletic Department last week is a little disheartening.
In a story examining Michigan”s basketball attendance epidemic, the Detroit Free Press quoted Michigan ticket manager Marty Bodnar as saying that Michigan doesn”t measure its attendance against North Carolina or Kentucky, and that a fairer measure would be schools like Florida State and Nebraska.
“The thing is, if you look at it as far as other schools across the country that are football powerhouses, they don”t necessarily have strong basketball programs,” Bodnar told the Free Press.
“If you compare us to those other schools we do pretty well in support for basketball.”
Sentiment like that caught me completely off guard especially because it came from the front office. Why are people entrusted with upholding Michigan”s standards suddenly compromising expectations?
Since Michigan is a football powerhouse, Bodnar”s reasoning goes, it can”t be expected to have solid basketball attendance. Oh well, nothing we can do here.
Hey, for a football powerhouse, we”re doing pretty good. For a football powerhouse.
Four years ago, when I had no reason to reject disclaimers, I might have accepted that logic.
This past weekend I realized that what my peers have been doing the past four years is simply impressive. Not impressive for a bunch of students or impressive for a bunch of kids just plain impressive. This university creates and perpetuates such excellence.
To hear that officials would lower any expectation for this university is unsettling.
David Den Herder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.