As I was sitting in the classroom listening to Mika explain A. Barlett Giamatti’s quote on slide 5 of Tuesday’s lecture entitled “Games and Freedom,” I began to reflect on how the passage’s content related to my own fan experience. “Who are my favorite surrogates?” I asked myself. The names of a few Chicago sports heroes suddenly darted into my head. Walter Payton, Vince McMahon, Brian Urlacher, Jonathon Towes, Bobby Hall, Denis Savard, Sammy Sosa, Ernie Banks, Tony Rizzo, Derrick Rose, and of course everyone on the 1996-1997 Chicago Bulls. But, then I thought about Michigan football. I’ve been a Michigan fan all my life. In fact, one of my earliest memories is watching the Wolverines take down Washington State in the 1998 Rose Bowl. I started going to Michigan football games in 2004 at the ripe young age of nine years old.
When I started going to games, The Big House sold out weekly as fans packed into the stadium to watch surrogates like Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant, and Chad Henne give them a glimpse of Utopia for a mere 60 minutes. During those years, the energy in Michigan Stadium could be sensed from half a world away. Fans were in what Giamatti would call “paradise,” every gameday. It was a great time to be a Michigan Wolverine. But as any lifelong Michigan fan would tell you, the last six years of Michigan football have been the darkest part in the program’s history. No campaign was darker than coach Rich Rodriguez’s between 2008 and 2010. During that time, Michigan went a less than stellar 15 and 22. After Rodriguez was ousted, Dave Brandon, Michigan’s current athletic director, pledged redemption and ushered in a new era of Michigan football by hiring Brady Hoke as head coach. But so far, nothing has gone according to plan.
As all of us know, Hoke has underperformed as a head coach. During his tenure, he has failed to develop top-tier recruits into quality college football players, and because of that, he has made watching our beloved football team tough to say the least. The euphoria Giamatti associates with watching sports is impossible to achieve when the team you are supporting isn’t producing results. However, as problematic as Hoke is, he isn’t the biggest issue. The true problem lies in the changing dynamic regarding ticket prices and the commercialization of the program.
This year student season ticket sales have dropped from 19,000 last year to just 13,000 this season, a thirty-one percent decrease. There are a number of reasons for this catastrophic breakdown. One reason for the collapse is the high season ticket prices for a low quality home schedule. This year, student season ticket holders paid around 300 dollars to watch seven home games. At the moment, none of the teams we have played or will play are ranked in the AP top 25. Given the low-level of competition and mediocrity of our team, many fans would rather stay home than watch the Wolverines. Currently, we are already halfway through the home season, and there has yet to have been a sold out game.
Moreover, the athletic department has initiated a propaganda campaign to distract fans from the poor performance on the field. Constant airplane flyovers, customized pop-songs (See “In The Big House” by Pop Evil), and even and unsuccessful proposal to have fireworks after every score have been few of these gimmicks. All of these are acts that are keeping fans from focusing on the game at hand, and thus making it harder for the spectators to reach Giamatti’s utopia.
The person behind all this trickery is the athletic director Dave Brandon. This isn’t an attack on Brandon’s performance as an athletic director in general. Rather, it is a criticism on how he runs our football program. However, these mismanagements shouldn’t be taken lightly. Football is a huge part of our school and its history. More importantly, football is the most supported sport at the university. Millions of people in the state of Michigan and around the world rely on the football team as an outlet of escape from their everyday lives. It is a key to Giamatti’s idea utopia for these fans. Moreover, we, as students and employees of this university, are losing this important and healthy release from our stressful daily schedules. Although Dave Brandon has done an amazing job of supporting other sports, football is the closest thing to the religious experience Giamatti claims sports give us. The program’s success is of the utmost importance, and so far, Brandon has failed us.
Giamatti, A. Bartlett. Take Time for Paradise. New York: Summit, 1989. Print.
LaVaque-Manty Mika. “Games and Freedom.” University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, MI.
23 Sep. 2014. Lecture.