Our student section doesn’t adequately represent the national standing and prestige our program deserves.
Assembly Hall. Krzyzewskiville. The “Izzone”. All three of these locales inspire images of tradition and success within the realm of college basketball — although the Izzone has experienced attrition of morale following recent upset losses to unranked Wisconsin and Nebraska. Their stands are consistently filled to capacity, bursting with legions of cheering fans passionately rooting for their respective teams, battling both the elements and borderline alcoholism to be as emphatic as possible for their games. Its an incredible sight to see live, and it creates a unique atmosphere unmatched by any other major sport.
And then there’s us, the Maize Rage. To be fair, Michigan basketball doesn’t have a terribly star-studded history, with the key exceptions being the “Fab Five” of the early ‘90’s and our recent successes in the past three years. However, our student section doesn’t adequately represent the national standing and prestige our program deserves. The aforementioned student sections across the country create a booming presence in any college arena, intimidating opposing teams and influencing the outcome of the game. In fact, the Izzone takes up the majority of the lower bowl of the Breslin center, making it one of the most formidable arenas in the country. Ours barely takes up half.
The Maize Rage unfortunately suffers a crisis of unified identity and commitment. Forgive me for mentioning the Izzone again, but in the Izzone students who are interested in lower bowl seating must wait an entire year before even being considered, requiring near perfect attendance and early arrival to earn their precious seats. It’s a level of dedication to the team that overwhelms even myself. Duke’s “Krzyzewskiville” may seem like a cute moniker, but practically functions like its own city. Fans camp out for days at a time waiting to see the Blue Devils play; this form of commitment makes for a fantastic college atmosphere.
Sights like this are seldom found in Ann Arbor on game day. The closest I’ve seen was during my freshman year, as I camped out for a highly anticipated Wisconsin matchup in the blistering cold. From the near crack of dawn till tip-off later that night, I waited for my spot to be in the lower bowl among hundreds of fellow students. While the experience was fantastic, the passion was absent. The student body seemed to be in a state of perpetual misery rather than fervent Michigan fandom, working in effect to dilute the ecstatic atmosphere of the camp.
Now, the debate over the strength of the Maize Rage has sprung up once again, following Michigan’s incredible upset victory over 3rd ranked Maryland. Polls across Twitter ran rampant, with one citing 94 percent of fans polled supporting an increase in the Maize Rage’s capacity.
Increasing the Maize Rage’s capacity is a compelling argument. I hope that most fans at this University would like to see their basketball student section compete with others on a national scale in both effectiveness and passion. And, it would make games so much more fun to attend.
However, as Michigan is such a large and interconnected university, the task of increasing student ticket capacity is rather difficult. U-M is accountable to more than just students, but fans, alumni, donors, recruited athletes and high-ranking officials as well. They all deserve space in Crisler Arena, and it remains a time-consuming and delicate task to balance space between these groups.
Ultimately, money tips the scales in favor of the latter demographics. Student tickets are a bargain at around $200 a season, while at the time of writing a single ticket to the upcoming Purdue matchup sells for around $50 in the upper bowl on StubHub. It is economically more advantageous for the University to focus on these sales instead, much to the chagrin of the student body.
Despite my economically cynical analysis, there is still a much larger problem plaguing the Maize Rage–people simply aren’t showing up. Recently, the University implemented a “claim system” to manage the distribution of student tickets, hoping that by making students choose their games wisely, attendance would increase. In reality, it hasn’t been all that effective. According the the U-M ticket office, claimed tickets for the Maryland game were only at 70% of all student ticket holders. 70%–a value not nearly enough to merit more space, especially for a game of such significance and magnitude. Even further, this figure only considers claimed tickets, ignoring sales of single game student tickets that often go unsold.
In order to justify a larger more vibrant student section, the logic is simple: students need to show up to games! If not enough students attend games and show up early, there’s practically no reason for the University to build a larger student section. More affluent fans in donors and alumni are already coming early and paying much more to do so. In order to displace their demands, it is critical that student fans make their voices and desires heard. How best to achieve that? Show up.
I want nothing more than a basketball student section that rivals the best in the nation. I want to see a sea of maize when I attend games, with organized chants so deafeningly loud the opposing team can’t even think straight. When I watch games on TV, I want to see a student section that encompases the entirety of the camera shot and makes its presence felt, whether viewers like it or not. I want us to be crazy, loud and more importantly, effective.
But in order to do that, we need passion. We need commitment as an entire student body to a better Maize Rage. We need the dedication of Krzyzewskiville, the tradition of Assembly Hall and the organization of the Izzone.
And above all else, we need people to show up to the games.