Football Town (Edit)

The Big House

“Hail to the Victors!” echoes throughout a packed stadium. Being a freshman and a first time  collegiate football game attendee, the grandeur of the University of Michigan’s stadium, tradition, and pride was a bit overwhelming. As the season progressed and the number of losses kept ticking higher and higher, something changed among the students. People were unhappy. They were more than unhappy. People were pissed. From ticket prices being hiked, poor performance, endangering student athletes, and demonstrations, I can honestly say that Michigan football has seen better days.  All of this buzz  brought a multitude of questions to my mind.  How could the performance of a single sport determine the outlook of an entire education institution? With a fan base bordering on fanatical, any move made by the university could have many far reaching consequences.

Do the students have a right to be angry? As someone who is going to be paying north of one hundred thousand dollars to attend here, personally I am a little bit bothered. Known for being a place for the high achievers, the best of the best, I feel like the administration and athletic department is not treating its students as well as they like to advertise that they are. Being a large competitive university the “just another number” mentality is already a concern, but with increased football ticket price, five dollar water at concessions, and a variety of other money making schemes, the word  “student”  seems to be becoming synonymous  with “profit”. Even if we don’t see ourselves engaged each person at the university exerts a small influence on everything around them, just as the grasshopper believed “that everyone alive is in fact engaged in playing elaborate games, while at the same time believing themselves to be going about their ordinary affairs”(10).  But i will take a step back. I understand, and I feel like most do, that people make mistakes, and that is all this University is; people. With a relatively green administrative staff, Hoke being here a mere four years, a newly initiated president, and an athletic director trying a new direction for an age old program, students and alumni alike cannot expect the next few years to go by without any road bumps. Looking around at every other aspect of campus, at the many things going well, the good might just out way the bad of the past couple weeks. With teams such as gymnastics, swimming, and women’s running winning multiple big ten titles, including individual champions, and working on more, it is obvious many other aspects of the athletic department are doing it right. That matched with an education comparable to almost none in the nation makes me proud to call myself a wolverine. Then what is the reason for this anger? As a school achieving highly in almost every other area besides football, why do we obsess over one fragment that makes up a whole.

Erin Finn, current Big Ten champion in cross country

    With total wins numbering higher than any other football program across the nation, and a history littered with national championships, fans and players have become accustomed to one thing : winning. When that essential part of the Michigan ego is missing,  as a school  we become off balanced. History has indicated that we win, and now we believe that its a birthright.  As observers we live so vicariously through our athletes that it makes a sport once considered play, abstract, separate, and fun, into something concrete and placed in reality, very remnant of Giamattis novel Take Time for Paradise ” The spectator invests his surrogate out there with all his carefree hopes, his aspirations for freedom, his yearning for transmutation of business   into leisure, war into peace, effort into grace.”(22).  This deep connection between fan and athlete causes the observer to pin all hope on the jump, throw, and catch of a complete stranger, while athletes feel the vigor in performing on a stage. This is an attempt by viewers to feel the flight of spirit in victory, and bitterness of defeat that each performers experience after every game. But as a fan base we have turned this symbiotic relationship on its head. We have become more than willing to celebrate victory, and join in the comradery of “The Team”, but refuse to join players in the misery of loss . This refusal of failure, intolerance of defeat in something so simple as a game of football stems from the constant need for validation experienced by the institution as a whole. If we cannot prove that we are ‘“The brightest and the best” out on the gridiron, how will anyone be able to know. With “daddy issues” circumnavigating an entire campus, I do believe that as a student body, a fan base, and as people, we need to learn to grow up and realize greatness is not achieved through a series of firings and hiring’s, but a commitment to an ideal of excellence, that every other aspect of this school achieves.

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4 thoughts on “Football Town (Edit)

  1. In defense of the students and fans calling for “firings and hirings” (not saying I’m one of them), I think they are committed to the same ideal of excellence that you mentioned. However, many students, fans, and alumni measure Michigan’s excellence in different ways. While some people measure our excellence based on academic breakthroughs or our presence in the academic community, other people might measure our excellence based on the success of the football and basketball team. Even though in the grand scheme of things there are certainly more critical issues than our football team’s disappointing season, it isn’t necessarily fair to say that people who are calling for changes in our athletic department need to “grow up.” While I think students, fans, and alumni should continue to support our current athletic director and coaches, I know their frustration is rooted in their high expectations for our team because they accept nothing less than the excellence the University of Michigan is known for.

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  2. I think it is slightly superficial to label anyone who criticizes the football team when we are losing as someone who needs to grow up. The fact of the matter is Michigan football has been one of the premier college football programs for a century, and over the past decade, the team has been disappointing. This unrest among students and fans is much deeper than this season’s losing record. And as far as other athletics go, while they are important, from a fan’s standpoint they will always take a back seat to football, especially at Michigan. While I do agree that many students are being unreasonable with their expectations and anger with the administration, our program’s current state certainly warrants some concern.

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  3. I don’t think there’s any one right answer to the question of how to get our football program back to where it used to be. Obviously, there are problems throughout the whole system, and the people getting the most heat right now are the people in charge, Hoke and Brandon. But, I feel like if we’re looking to point fingers at who’s not doing their job correctly, it goes deeper than just those two. You mentioned how fans are pissed, reasonably so, but does that really give us a right to completely turn our back on our athletes? On Friday’s in class you hear people crack jokes about how we know we’re going to lose…ESPECIALLY before the Penn State game. I feel like as students, instead of constantly bashing our football program and the people in charge, we need to find a way to come together to make us stronger. If we don’t believe in the team, who else will?

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  4. I think this really gets into the excerpt we read of Giamatti, where he claims that sports are almost religious. Michigan football can almost be considered sacred. Not to everyone, of course, but that feeling is definitely there. We should definitely applaud and acknowledge the other awesome athletic programs here that are succeeding at high levels. But Michigan football is one of the faces of Michigan. It is something we take pride in, something that unites us beyond being at this awesome institution. Football is an escape for a lot of students. While we’re chanting in the Big House, nothing else matters. Saturday means everything, right? Exams, stress, friend trouble, professor trouble- everything is gone. It’s hard to escape, though, when our team is losing. We shouldn’t give up on them, but we shouldn’t lower our standards, either. We know that we have the potential to be a powerhouse of a team. Michigan students and Michigan athletes are the leaders and the best and that’s what we want from our football program.

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