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Monday, April 10, 2006

The New York Times has an unfortunate habit of bothering with goings-on at the University of Michigan only when extremely silly people are talking. Since the Times is the national paper of record, this has the even more unfortunate effect of legitimizing whatever the silly people are talking about. Exhibit A: a half-dozen years ago a motley crew of student activists and Detroit communists made a statement by decrying the existence of a "secret society" at Michigan that used Native American imagery in offensive ways. Or at least had done some at some point in the past. So incensed at this society that no one was supposed to know about that may or may not still be doing offensive things, they occupied their office, sent out a lot of email, and some months later had their own article in the Times. This only encouraged them further, much to everyone's detriment.

In 2006 a similarly well-intentioned crew of complete and total loons has garnered a Times article and thus stature wildly out of proportion to the merit and importance of their cause: protesting the planned renovation of Michigan Stadium, specifically the addition of what Martin terms "enclosed seating" and the loons term "luxury boxes," a distinction I could not care less about. If I have any preference, I prefer "luxury boxes" because they sound more likely to really soak some of the crotchety elderly I have to contend with whenever I attend a home game.

Do we really have to delve deep into the win-win of luxury boxes at Michigan in order to dispel this ridiculous idea that they will have a negative effect on the game experience for anyone? We shouldn't, but... NYT and all. Okay. Stakeholder-by-stakeholder:

  • Loaded old people: Muffy and I no longer have to risk death by frostbite every fall. We obviously enjoy the idea of boxes, as we've voluntarily shelled out the GDP of Belize to sit here. I do sort of miss screaming "down in front" at impudent 50-year-olds with their crazy hair and stupid pet rocks and hula hoops and music videos applesauce applesauce let's sing the applesauce song.
  • Joe Plebian in the stands: My, this extra 1.5 inches does make a difference... and there are many fewer crotchety old people yelling at me to sit down during exciting plays.
  • Bill Martin: Now I have even more money I can roll around in, Demi-Moore style.
  • Michigan players: Yes, it does seem somewhat louder in here, as the higher walls tend to keep in a bit more sound and those displaced to the luxury boxes never said peep in the first place.
  • The basketball team: Yay, if Martin ever stops rubbing the money all over his naughty bits, we get the facilities we need to compete with George Mason.
All this can be yours if only one gets on board. Truly, the luxury box is marketing alchemy on par with bottled water. You take the worst seats in the house, add some appetizers, and voila! Millions of dollars. Who are we to discourage the foolish rich?

In any case, you would do well to consider the source: other than the founder of the extremely silly website behind all this, the main source of anti-box quotes is former university president James Duderstadt, who hates everything about collegiate athletics and is as predictable on this topic as a partisan talking head is about, well, anything. It's akin to asking Ann Coulter if she thinks Hillary Clinton would make a good president: you're going to get a lot of spittle and exactly zero information other than "Coulter hates Clinton," something you knew before. Add in the fact that Duderstadt is so out of touch that he pulls a T. Herman Zweibel by referring to the NCAA basketball "final-four" tournament and what you get is less the wise tidings of a respected member of the community and more the crackpot natterings of an angry old man. There's little value in his opinion given his wider worldview.

While Duderstadt dislikes the idea of luxury boxes because he dislikes the idea of intercollegiate athletics that people care about, the other protestors think that Michigan operates outside the rules of thermodynamics. Ignoring entropy, their solution to keeping Michigan relevant is the same that keeps the Sphinx and Hunter S. Thompson in tip-top-shape to this very day: leave it alone and let time's stewardship see it through. Michigan is already in an excited, untenable state by rejecting the advertising that makes the interiors of Spartan and Ohio Stadium corporate eyesores. As a result our stadium is both pristine and badly out of date in dozens of ways -- access to seats, sufficient bathrooms, ugly tin on the outside of the stadium. Michigan has already slipped far behind the average college stadium's amenities -- let alone the NFL so abhorrent to the letter-writers -- and must provide a source of revenue going forward that can make up this slippage and more. Otherwise Michigan's most important tradition, winning*, will start to suffer at the hands of its lesser brethren.

Oh yeah, PS: Let this in no way be construed as an endorsement of that other main bugaboo, advertising. If you've ever been to a road game at OSU or MSU and weren't repulsed by Jewel Osco and the Michigan Marinated Soybean Board bringing you OMG OMG OMG Tractor Racing(!!!) during a commercial break, please deport yourself immediately.

*(And don't let anyone tell you different. Northwestern has traditon-laden program and a history of academic excellence unparallelled in the Big Ten and still plays road games at Ryan Field whenever Michigan wanders into town.)