The University of Michigan’s athletic director sent a proposal to the University’s Regents, requesting permission to set off fireworks during two football games this fall. When the Regents turned down the request, it suggested the balance of power might be shifting.
At first blush, the question of post-game fireworks didn’t seem like a big deal either way. On Michigan fan blogs, reactions were mixed.
As for the University’s Regents, they have bigger things to worry about. Even the athletic department’s budget which has grown by 50%, to $150 million dollars might seem like a lot to us, but that’s a rounding error at the University’s hospital.
So when the Regents voted down the fireworks for two games this season, it got people’s attention.
The Regents rarely split their votes, or deny the athletic director’s wishes. But when the Regents looked into the fireworks proposal, they were surprised to find the department wanted to set off fireworks not just after both games, but during the second game, after touchdowns replacing the century old tradition of celebrating with “The Victors.”
Once bloggers saw that, they exploded like well, fireworks. They didn’t like the idea any more than the Regents did.
More telling were the Regents’ remarks. Three-term Regent Larry Deitch said, “I have religiously attended Michigan football games for 50 years. I have not found that experience wanting for lack fireworks.”
Regent Mark Bernstein termed the fireworks a “huge symbolic issue.” He added, “We are not Comerica Park, Disney World, or a circus. I love Michigan football for what it is, and for what it is not. It remains and should be intentionally simple. The fireworks should be on the field, not above it.”
The bloggers voiced full-throated agreement, writing, “They get it!” “About time!” and “Amen.” They might have set a record for quoting Regents.
The day after the vote, incoming President Mark Schlissel told a reporter that, being new, he had no opinion on the matter. He reassured the faithful he understands how important athletics are to the university culture, but he added, “We're an academic institution, so I want to work on the appropriate balance between athletics and academics. The athletic director does have delegated responsibilities, but he works for me.”
On Michigan websites, this sparked another chorus of “Hallelujah.”
But what does all this mean?
It’s easy to read too much into the comments from the Regents and President Schlissel. When you boil their quotes down, they represent not a radical departure from the status quo, but a return to the protocols, customs and traditions Michigan has relied on for over a century.
But taken together, they do suggest the people who run the university no longer feel compelled to rubber stamp the athletic director’s every request.
The athletic department has bigger things to worry about, too. The department has run ads on its blog, its billboard, on TV and even at a street stand during the art fair, urging us to buy football tickets. If those unprecedented efforts didn’t tell us how eager they must be to unload tickets by the bucket, the email this week to its golf club members announcing free tickets for all removed any doubt.
If you went to Michigan, live in Michigan or can find Michigan on a map, don’t be surprised when you’re offered free Michigan football tickets. If Michigan fails to lure 100,000 fans to the Big House for the first time since 1975, the biggest fireworks this fall might not be in the sky or on the field, but in University offices on State Street.
John U. Bacon is Michigan Radio’s Essay/Analysis: Sports Commentator. Views expressed in the essays by Bacon are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.