As you may have heard, the University of Michigan Regents voted to approve the Bill Martin-proposed renovation of Michigan Stadium. The vote was 5-3. The plan will add luxury suites, euphemistically termed "enclosed seating," on the East and West sides of the stadium. The boxes will help trap crowd noise and the money raised through seasonal sales will subsidize other stadium renovations, including a widening of aisles and seats, an expansion of the bathrooms, and an update of the concession areas.
As noted here before, I think that this is a good thing. The revenue streams generated by this plan are necessary (even necessary evils if you want to take it that far) to remain competitive in today's college-athletics universe. That's just how it goes. But others disagree, namely media-friendly John Pollack. Read this.
John Pollack grew up in Ann Arbor; he has a parent who teaches at the University; and he is a football season-ticket holder. (He now lives in New York.) Theoretically these "qualifications" make him some kind of morally righteous crusader who is championing meritocracy among fans while the evil, subversive, corporate forces marshaled by Athletic Director Bill Martin imperil the proud institution known as Michigan football and its Camelot-like iconic home, Michigan Stadium.
Were a filmmaker using this reasoning to adapt the Big House story for the big screen, Pollack would be cast as a speaker of truth whose insight and voice are so damning and galvanizing that the corrupt powers against which he is struggling will stop at nothing to silence this polemicist. After suffering a number of setbacks while "doing the right thing," Pollack would be forced to take the proverbial route "outside of the system," and resort to fighting fair. Only in the end, he would triumph, rising to the top thanks to the buoyancy of his virtue.
It's act one, and Pollack is an unassuming do-gooder. He's unpacking boxes inside a handsome but modest Ann Arbor house that he has just moved into after returning from New York, the proverbial "big city." Pollack left because he had grown restless in Ann Arbor, a small town that couldn't offer enough opportunities for this big-thinking, big-dreaming go-getter. (Note: Lots of hyphens. Sorry.) In New York, he found the challenges that he had sought, but he couldn't overcome them, regularly failing to stand up to corporate bullies at work; social bullies at the bars; and personal bullies in his dreams. He has returned to find himself and make right that from which he originally fled, most importantly his relationship with an overbearing, intimidating father.
All is going relatively well for John. He's found some steady work at Bell's, a local pizzeria; he's gotten back into running, a childhood passion that he was forced to abandon by the hectic big-city life; he's reconnected with his closest friends from high school, all of whom stuck around Ann Arbor for various reasons (one had a baby, one had an overdose, one had an ailing parent); and he's found an uneasy equilibrium with his parents, the tormenting father and his docile mother.
One night when John's out with some friends at a local bar, Ashley's, he runs into his high-school sweetheart, the girl who he's loved since he first saw her in second grade and the girl whose heart he broke when he left for New York without explaining why he was leaving. She's always thought that she drove him away and it has confused her. John and this woman, Diane, have an uneasy conversation while his friends scoff and suppress knowing laughs, as everyone can sense that their connection persists. John is going to ask Diane to go out to dinner with him one night so that they can catch up when a guy comes up from behind Diane, twirls her around, and dips her in his arms as they kiss. This is Daniel Martin, son of the evil athletic director, Bill Martin, and a member of the local Cobra Kai karate dojo. (Note: That last part might be made up, but I'd hope that the movie would have a scene in which at least one character yelled, "Put him in a body bag, Danny!" Wouldn't that be awesome? And what a mind fuck: Danny, not Johnny. Yes, I am a dork.)
Anyway, you get the gist, right? Things would go as you might think: Danny would give John a hard time at work; John and Diane would start up an illicit affair that the audience would be rooting for; John would have a series of blow ups with his father, who, as a university professor, would turn out to be an ally of Bill Martin; etc. The catalyst for all the confrontation, of course, would be renovation of Michigan Stadium, a hallowed place that John's great grandfather helped build as a gathering place for all of Ann Arbor to root on the mighty Wolverines, a program that was legendary but had fallen on recent hard times thanks to the bumblings of a good-guy coach who was in over his head. Tired of losing and motivated by corporate avarice, the athletic director would lead a seemingly unbeatable campaign to overhaul the Big House, renovating the seats, concourses, and bathrooms; making it ADA-compliant; and subsidizing the whole project by installing luxury boxes that would fundamentally alter the egalitarian design of a cherished place. And of course, there would be the usual intrigue: Pollack's father's consent--a prerequisite for the proposed changes--would have been attained under false pretenses and Martin's purposeful duplicity.
By the end of act two, time would be running out to stop the stadium plans; Danny would be set to propose to Diane; and John would be left lying face down in a gutter somewhere near the Blind Pig after receiving a beatdown from Martin's hired thugs, some big European guys in black leather jackets. The dire circumstances would call for extreme measures, and John would likely have to engage in some elaborate scheme to break into Martin's office with the help of his lovable band of eccentric friends and steal documents that would expose the treachery at play.
The story would end as you might expect: John's shining light of truth would expose Martin's lies, stop the stadium plans, force a happy reconciliation with John's father, win back Diane's love, and save the Big House.
This is probably what Pollack has in his head. I mean it has to be, as I can't otherwise think of a good reason why he's carrying on like a baby with sour grapes in his mouth. Pollack seems to be arguing that an integral part of the Big House experience is sitting next to 110,000 people who are no better or worse than you. I'll be honest, that's kind of cool. So is walking in for the first time each week and surveying the spectacle of a crowd that big. But so long as I can see the game, I really don't usually stop to think about this stuff. And honestly, Pollack's position is one that also seems to argue for missing the first quarter because there are always lines at every gate ten minutes before kickoff; for feeling like you're caught in a death trap at the end of each game as you wait 30 minutes to get out of the stadium's bowl; for waiting in a long-ass line just to pee in a trough; for sitting down and feeling fat since you're inevitably left with six inches on the bench where you sit.
John, if alleviating all of these issues costs us, the Michigan community, a little less egalitarianism as corporations and rich individuals shell out money that will be used to make the athletics department stronger, I can live with that. But hey, that's just one man's opini--no, wait, it's not. It's also the opinion held by tons of fans, the University's president, the University's athletic director, and five of the eight University regents.
So you know what? Give me your season tickets. That'll show 'em. And even better, it will free you up to watch the games with a perfect, meritocratic group of your choice at some location where it's all about equality. Maybe the Soviet Union is still available for this party of yours?