Michigan will host ESPN’s Game Day on Saturday morning before battling Ohio State on Saturday night. It’s a big time week for the basketball team but also the student section. In preparation for the big game and all of the hoopla, I caught up with Maize Rage secretary Bob McWilliams to discuss the Maize Rage’s recent growth, College GameDay plans and much more.
College GameDay heads to Ann Arbor on Saturday morning and while it’s not quite its football cousin, it still seems like a big deal. Tell us the basics. What should every student and non-student know about the event and how they can participate?
Game Day is free and open to the public [Full Athletic Department Primer], so even if you are a student without a ticket or not a student, you can still attend. Lining up in front of Crisler Center will start officially at 5 a.m. and the doors will open at 7:30 a.m. The first 500 students with tickets who line up will receive numbered Fast Pass wristbands (based on order of arrival). The show will go live from 10-12 a.m. and we’ll go crazy for two hours while a Buckeye talks to an Irishman and a Dukie about basketball. If only Magic Johnson did college analysis instead of the NBA, right?
Then we will be promptly kicked out before the line for entry into the game starts at 2 p.m. Those students with Fast Passes must arrive at 5 p.m., when they will be allowed into the courtyard surrounding the stadium and lined up according to the number on the wristbands. Note that parking is allowed in the stadium lot all Friday night and until 5 p.m. on Saturday, so you can drive there and join us for some 2 a.m. tailgating if you so wish. Sleeping bags and such are not allowed in but they can be stowed in cars.
Michigan is undefeated at home with two more games to play at the Crisler Center, how would you rate the student section’s performance this year?
It’s nice to have a quantifiable result to back up our claims of a home-court advantage. To see our team win 15 straight (and counting) is incredible, and it gives us something to beat our chests about whenever we hear the usual complaints and criticism. We need seasons like this to help us turn around the negative perception that years of losing seasons and empty seats have brought us. Understandably, Crisler doesn’t have the same mythos about it that places like Rupp Arena, Cameron Indoor, Allen Fieldhouse, etc. do. Part of that is history; part of that is an unintended consequence of Michigan’s football dominance; and part of it is the fact that nothing more exciting has happened in Kentucky or Kansas since the Civil War. But it’s a shame, because I think the differences between student sections aren’t as pronounced as most believe. If only there were a Ken Pomeroy for student sections, I could try to back this up. I can see the four factors now: average decibel rating, size, creativity of chants, and percentage wearing the same color.
Do you have student attendance numbers over the past few seasons? I’d love to see the growth quantified.
We don’t have a very detailed account of student attendance, but I can say that the average attendance at our weekly core meetings has increased from 10 to 80 in the past 3 years (a 700% increase!). Most games back then had empty room in the bleachers (the courtside seats), which seat roughly 600 students. Last year we filled the bleachers most games, but only once or twice exceeded the capacity of our lower bowl “overfill” section. This year, we’ve had students sitting in the upper deck every single game.
What do you know about the mysterious open seats in Crisler Arena? Are these student overflow or something else?
The open seats are student overflow. A large chunk of seats in the upper bowl are reserved for students, and since it’s general admission for us, it can be hard to gauge how many of us will show up. I’d guess that enough seats are reserved to account for most, if not all, students who have bought tickets, and since there are still a few who haven’t even picked them up (sinners, all of them), that necessitates empty seats.
What type of support has the basketball program provided for the Maize Rage?
Our relationship is mostly a positive one. They give us pretty free reign as far as chants and signs go. They also buy us a limited number of tickets to the Big Ten Tournament as well as the Michigan State game in East Lansing every year. So we have no right to complain, but if we did, we’d mention the fact that the bleachers were shrunk and pushed back during last year’s renovations. Anyone who has seen a game in East Lansing knows how intimidating a ring of students can be. More feasibly, I wish there were more consistency with the way the pregame is run. We used to pick the music for the intro song, and get pumped up for tipoff. Now we stand around and shake our heads. Is a good song too much to ask for?
What’s the one thing that you wish non-student fans did at basketball games?
I respect Michigan crowds because they do a good job of getting loud and standing up at big moments. They don’t need to be as loud as we are all game (though that’d be great, and if you’ve ever gone to a game in Indiana’s Assembly Hall, you know how intimidating of an atmosphere this could create). We do wish that everyone showed up earlier though. The students make up the majority of the crowd until a minute or two before tipoff. We asked Josh Bartelstein to come talk to us at one of our meetings, and he mentioned that the size of the crowd during the pregame warm-up matters as much on the road as the size of the crowd during the actual game. He described how frightening it was to walk into Allen Fieldhouse (in Kansas) his freshman year and have it packed full over an hour before tipoff.
What’s the one thing that you wish the Maize Rage did a better job of?
We could use better coordination, clearer cheers, and maybe a truly iconic tradition or two before we start calling ourselves the class of the Big Ten. For now I’d be content if everyone “popcorned” (our term for jumping up and down when we are on defense) consistently. It’s really simple, and it’s what all the future Michigan fans out there first notice about us when watch us on TV. When 90% of us do it, it is intimidating. When it’s only the front row: not so much. We’re improving by leaps and bounds every year though. It’s important to remember that we’re a young section. The Maize Rage was only started in the ‘98-‘99 season, and we have freshmen this year who have never been alive during a Michigan Final Four appearance. It’ll take more than one or two solid seasons to reverse a decade of basketball apathy, but the growth in size of the Rage is a good sign of progress.
The Ohio State game on Saturday is as big as it gets, any special surprises from the Rage?
Well, I can’t ruin any surprises, but I can confirm that we are working on a couple of in-game ideas. The Rage Page (our pregame newsletter we pass out every game) will have the details. To our fans of the “Jort-out”, we’re sorry to say that we won’t have a theme, unless of course you consider “hating Ohio” to be a theme. This will be our loudest game yet, I’ll promise you that. One other thing: For those who always ask about the giant head posters seen in places like Indiana, we’re sorry to say we still won’t have any. They cost 70 dollars each, which is pricey for us college students. Indiana has so many because their athletic department provides most of them. Also, they don’t have to buy football tickets in Bloomington (I kid, I kid…).
As a reminder, all of these answers are Bob McWilliams’ and not intended to represent the Maize Rage as an organization.