Sports Commentary
9:59 am
Fri May 3, 2013

Students aren’t leaving Michigan football - Michigan football is leaving them

For decades, students at Michigan games were assigned seats, with the seniors getting the best ones. But for some games last year, a quarter of the 20,000 or so people in the student section were no-shows.

So, athletic director Dave Brandon decided to switch them to general admission – first come, first seated -- to get them to show up on time -or, at all.

The students went ballistic.

Yes, some can display a breathtaking sense of entitlement, and they won’t get much sympathy from the average fan, who has to pay three or four-times more.

But before we bash the students too much, perhaps we should ask why they’re not showing up.

Punishing your paying customers for not liking your product enough is probably not something they teach at Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

The athletic department hasn’t asked them, but I have a few hunches.

Because tickets are so expensive now, and games take so long, the current students didn’t go when they were kids – which is when you get hooked on the band flying out of the tunnel and the players touching the banner.

Of course, our habit formed because we knew the game was going to start at 1:05, every Saturday, for years. 

Now it could be noon, or 3:30, or 8 – and they don’t tell you until that week.  Why?  TV.  Which is to say, money.

We also knew Michigan would be playing a solid opponent – every game.

In Bo Schembechler’s 21 seasons, they played 59 non-Big Ten teams.

How many were not from major conferences?  One.  Long Beach State, in 1987.

My freshman year, Michigan played all nine Big Ten opponents, and two non-conference teams.

Central, Western, or Eastern Michigan?

No, try 20th ranked Notre Dame on the road, and 12th ranked UCLA, at home.

My junior year, Michigan’s first two home games were against first-ranked Miami and 16th ranked Washington.

Do you think we got there on time?

Now they give us a steady diet of junk food from lesser conferences, even lesser divisions, and demand steakhouse prices.

Now they give us a steady diet of junk food from lesser conferences, even lesser divisions, and demand steakhouse prices.

Delaware State, anyone?

Back then, we knew we would be entertained every minute with first-rate football and first-rate band music, because only two games per season were televised.

No TV, no TV timeouts. Games took less than three hours. 

Now, every single game is televised, which means commercial breaks, which means four-hour games. During those breaks, instead of live band music – which you can’t get anywhere else – they often give us recorded rock music, which you can get anywhere.  And now they’re replacing that with ads on the big screen TVs.

Okay, the ads are for Michigan’s other teams, not toothpaste, but that’s not going to thrill any students I know.

Some weekends they don’t play at all, because the longer schedule requires off weeks, and also pushes the Ohio State game to Thanksgiving weekend. See ya, out of state students!

Everything we could take for granted – the starting time, the schedule, the non-stop fun – the current students cannot.

The students aren’t leaving Michigan football.  Michigan football is leaving them.

Habits are hard to develop, but they're easy to break.

Habits are hard to develop, but they’re easy to break. Instead of bringing back what students got hooked on in the first place, Brandon increased student tickets by 25-percent.

And for what?

To pay the director of a non-profit department a million dollars a year, and replace Schembechler Hall, built in 1990 for $12 million, with something bigger, better and more expensive.

They knocked it down this week.

Does Brandon care about the past? Does he care about the future?

After antagonizing the students, does he think they’ll come back ten or twenty years from now, at four times the price -- and bring their kids?

I wouldn't bet the Big House on it.  But Brandon is.

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