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And There Was Much Rejoicing

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First, the obvious: Michigan beat Old Dominion on Tuesday night, advancing to the NIT Final. It will play South Carolina on Thursday night to determine who is truly the mediocrest. Say what you will, but at least UM has gotten three extra weeks of practice. If that even means anything for this team. (P.S. Nothing beats that glimpse into the future that we get when Tommy gets in his time machine and goes with Smith, Harris, Coleman, Petway, and Sims.)

In other Michigan news, some people in the University community don't seem to understand that Michigan is--believe it or not--behind the times. There is apparently a growing movement afoot to prevent Michigan Stadium from expanding (and expanding its revenue) by adding luxury boxes and preferred seating and all that. These people are the college-athletics equivalents of Luddites.

I understand that there is something fundamentally non-egalitarian about adding luxury boxes, and that this spirit of class distinction conflicts with the meritocratic, progressive culture of Ann Arbor. (Although, I fail to understand what's so fair and open about $55 tickets to begin with.) I also understand that the addition of luxury boxes is a concession to the irresistible waves of commercialism and professionalism that are washing over college sports. The rapidly vanishing high ground sometimes occupied by schools like the University of Michigan has been nice, but Michigan is hardly a paragon of amateurism and the purity of college sports; adding luxury boxes will not collapse a foundation of uncorrupted, idealistic athletic virtue. Just ask Nike. Or ABC. Or, sadly, Ed Martin.

Simultaneously, here's what I and everyone else also has to understand: You either try to win or you don't compete. "You play to win the game" a famous coach with a bad sense of time once said.

Don't want luxury boxes? Refuse to allow advertising in Michigan Stadium (like a Swoosh or a Pepsi logo on a scoreboard)? Content to allow existing revenue streams to become insufficient as competitors find new sources? That's all fine. But then leave the Big Ten; kick out Nike; reduce the athletic budget and divert all of those alumni gifts to pay professors more money and fund more academic scholarships. You can't have it both ways--you're either competing with peer institutions or you're finding new peers. The Joke of a University does not care that luxury boxes might be the results of overt capitalism. In something like reading, what that juvenile detention center does and does not do has no bearing on a real school like Michigan. But in athletics? Well, you gotta know what your competitors are up to.

A significant component of the Michigan experience is the proud history of athletic success. Michigan athletes become NFL stars, Olympic heroes, and New York Knicks. It's the Michigan Difference, if you will. Look, there are tens of places where you can get an elite education; dozens of schools that offer diverse communities; and hundreds of small towns with pretty trees. What there aren't so many of are the special places where you can find all of those things, on top of enthralling and tradition-rich athletics. Walk around Ann Arbor on a Saturday morning in the fall. Soak up the culture. Rejoice in the knowledge that the kid you saw solving that impossible equation on Wednesday is now screaming the fight song on his lawn as he runs after a ping-pong ball that got away. He's not up and out there so early just because something wonderfully mediocre has galvanized the campus.

Athletics are a great thing for the University of Michigan. Athletics are points of social coalescence; athletics are a common language for Wolverines; athletics are a component in the quintessential college experience offered in Ann Arbor. And oh by the way, athletic success helps to drive up name recognition, applications, and, ultimately, the quality of the total education made available by the state of Michigan at the nation's flagship public university.

All of this should be sacrificed so that the team (wearing a corporation's uniforms) that you watch religiously (on another corporation's airwaves) each year on Saturdays (while the second corporation accepts money from even more corporations who want to make their own money through advertising) while wearing your favorite gear (which was made by even more corporations) can operate while protected from the grips of capitalism? That sounds like a bad deal to me. Luxury boxes and other renovations may be compromises, but they're compromises with the future, and not obsolete pacts with the past.