Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Friday, January 19, 2007

You'd still have to find Michigan basketball fans

Today's Detroit News has an interesting article by Fred Girard about the progress of renovation plans for the University of Michigan's Crisler Arena. Last month, the cost for the project was estimated as high as $75 million.

Athletic director Bill Martin, however, says such plans aren't at the stage for a set price tag yet. For one thing, much more updated information is needed. The last infrastructure study on Crisler was done 10 years ago.

Plus, there are several more building projects on the docket, many of which hold a higher priority for the U-M athletic department. Included among these are the newly opened Ross Academic Center, updates to Alumni Field (softball) and Fisher Stadium (baseball), and the much-anticipated renovations and additions to Michigan Stadium, set to cost $226 million.

But even if improvements to Crisler Arena weren't far down the to-do list for Michigan, I'd wonder just how much support such plans would have in the first place. From both the inside and outside, the facility seems perfectly suitable. Nothing appears to be falling apart or in crying need of repair.

What Crisler seems to be most in need of is an atmosphere transfusion. The place is dimly lit. (Maybe to hide all of the empty seats?) You want to fall asleep as soon as you sit down. It's almost as dark as a concert hall while a symphony is performing.

The Maize Rage has done an impressive job over the past few years of boosting up the noise and spirit close to the court, but any and all fervor seems to be restricted to that section. It's certainly a good start, but hardly the Izzone at Michigan State, for example.

Unfortunately, my frame of reference for other Big Ten arenas is restricted to the state of Michigan. So I can only compare Crisler to the Breslin Center. But it's not too difficult to see what MSU gets right as soon as you walk in. The place is bright and exciting, almost like a miniature version of The Palace of Auburn Hills. It makes you sit up and take notice.

But the big question for the Michigan athletic department is whether or not they'd see any return on such an investment. I'm not saying anything a Michigan fan already doesn't know, but basketball just doesn't draw the same kind of support football does here. Fan interest isn't attached solely to performance, either. I don't have any hard data to back this up, but I don't remember Crisler being consistently filled during the "Fab Five" era. And that was arguably the program's most successful run. (It was certainly its most notorious.)

So would Michigan shelling out $75 million for an improved basketball arena be the athletic department equivalent of buying a Bowflex for yourself in January? This year you're going to start working out! And then by February, you've spent $1,500 on a dust-gathering coat rack/DVD shelf. Would the same thing happen in Ann Arbor after the one-year novelty of a newly spruced-up Crisler Arena wears off?

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