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February 20, 1998 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1998-02-20

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12 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, February 20, 1998

i

FRIDAYFOCUS

The Michigan men's basketball team features
some of the most exciting players in the country.
Michigan basketball has a rich tradition, including
a national championship and two Final Four
appearances in the past 10 years. Still, the
Wolverines' home court is rarely louder than
your average library, which begs the question ...
wrong with

0

I

Pan s inz Crier?
as t a dream.
y voice was hoarse. My throat was sore. My feet
hurt, and my legs ached from jumping up and down.
My heart raced.
The palms of my hands were red from slapping hi-fives
with all the people around me - most of whom I didn't
even know. Most of whom I had never even seen before.
SWant to know something even more surprising? I was in
t1e stands of Crisler Arena.
And no, I wasn't there for a Grateful Dead concert. And
no, nothing illegal had been added to the crowd's drinks that
evening.
I was watching a basketball game. A Michigan basketball
game.
I know, I know. Most of you are laughing to yourselves.
Maybe you're about to throw the paper down in disgust.
A Michigan basketball game? At Crisler Arena? And
some kind of exuberant emotion was involved? Maybe there
was something in my drink after all. And maybe it affected
my judgment permanently.
People cheering? During a game? And it wasn't even the
halftime show featuring the standard rejects from a European
circus act?
I swear it. I speak the truth. And
there are even thousands of other wit-
nesses to the mayhem. You guessed it,
Crisler was even sold out on that infa-
_ _ mous night.
Calm down. The sun hadn't been
blotted out of the sky, and
Armageddon hadn't arrived. There was
CHRIS a logical reason for the madness.
FARAH Duke was in town.
It was Dec. 13, and an unranked,
Farah's unheralded, scandal-tainted Michigan
Faucet team faced the sainted Blue Devils,
ranked No. 1 in the country. Even Tom
Goss, Michigan's own athletic director, had said before the
game that he wanted Michigan to be like Duke's program.
The Wolverines came out that night to prove they didn't
have to be Duke. They could be better than Duke.
And Michigan's fans showed up, also with an inferiority
complex. Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium is known as the
wildest basketball venue in the nation. Crisler Arena is
known by Michigan's own students as "The Lounge."
The Michigan fans had something to prove that afternoon
on national TV. Crisler didn't have to be Cameron. Crisler
could be better than Cameron. And so they cheered. They
screamed until it hurt. They taunted the Duke players. They
jumped up and down. They jumped on top of each other.
They even stood up - for the whole game, no less.
Even the alumni were a little excited. At least as much as
atumni can be excited.
They made a bit of noise. Some polite applause wafted
ovr fom the older folk. There were even a few indications
tht they knew they were watching a basketball game. I
heard a couple incoherent yells about a ball. OK, so it was a
dotball, but at least it was a sport.
gut as usual, they wouldn't stand up. The student section
begged them, pleaded with them in unison, to please, please,
just stand up.
And then the amazing happened. With a couple minutes
left in regulation, and Michigan recapturing the lead after
being down by approximately a zillion points, even the alum-
ni stretched their weary legs and stood up. True, they were
probably just thinking of leaving early to avoid the rush in
the parking lot, but they stood up nonetheless.
'Michigan won, 81-73. The crowd, which hadn't been
socializing or reading Shakespeare like it usually does, rushed
thecourt. Fans tackled Robert Traylor as he climbed onto the
scorer' s table and rose his massive arms in triumph.
It was one of the greatest sports moments of my life. And
even though I didn't know 99 percent of them - the ones I
hugged, the ones I cheered with, the ones I stood with - I
do'know it was one of the greatest sports moments for every'
single fan in Crisler Arena.
How do I know? They told me with their hi-fives, they
told me with their cries, they told me with their smiles.
They told me by being fans.
Crisler can be better than Cameron. It really doesn't come
down to the building. It really doesn't come down to the tick-
et system, or even the teams playing.
It comes down to the fans.
- E-mail Chris Farah at cfarah@umich.edu.

By James Goldstein Daily Sports Writer

f you build it, they will come, right? Well, not
exactly. Crisler is no "Arena of Dreams," and
apparently, it's no place for Michigan fans.
Although the Michigan men's basketball team
has been ranked among the nation's top 25 teams
all season, its home court doesn't make anyone's
top 25. Crisler Arena is better known for its lack
of an inspired atmosphere than anything else.
The atmosphere of this season's Michigan home
games, in fact, is far from the feeling of a sports
arena. Michigan players rarely have given credit
to the Crisler crowd, while many times they have
mentioned the home court advantage of other con-
ference opponents.
Instead, the feeling around Crisler has mimic-
ked the nickname that the The Sporting News
recently came up with - "The Cemetery."
"I don't think teams fear coming in here as much
as they should," said Michigan senior guard Travis
Conlan. "When you go to Michigan State, Purdue
or Illinois or anywhere, the crowd is around the
floor, yelling at us. That's fun. That's college bas-
ketball. That's fun for a player who is going to play
there and for a player whose home court is there."
Michigan guard Louis Bullock described
Michigan State's Breslin Center as a place where
the students make remarks that "should be on
HBO." During Tuesday's Michigan-Michigan
State match-up in East Lansing, Spartans fans were
rowdy from tipoff until the final buzzer and came
up with some unique chants about Robert Traylor's
weight and Robbie Reid's hair.
The Crisler fans' chatter at times is more likely
to be heard on PBS. An older fan actually was seen
reading a newspaper during a recent game.
At Breslin, the announcer asked fans before
Tuesday's game to keep the noise down. Michigan
players only wish that was a problem at Crisler.
"It's kind of tough some nights when the crowd
is not into (the game) and you've got to get them
into it," said Michigan center Robert Traylor. "If
the crowd gets into the game a little more, it gives
you an advantage. Not only is the opposing team
put out of their game, it gets you into the game."
As the start of the Big Ten Tournament in
Chicago approaches - preceding what could be a
berth for Michigan in the NCAA Tournament -
Crisler attendance seems to be dwindling, rather
than growing in anticipation.
So far this season, only two of Michigan's 12
games at Crisler have sold out - the Duke game
on Dec. 13 and the Michigan State game on Jan.
10.
In Michigan's most recent home game, against
Ohio State, the stadium had 1,200 no-shows, but
in reality, it looked as if hundreds more fans were
absent. In front of a tranquil crowd, the Buckeyes

(winless in the conference) almost came back from
double-digits to win the game.
"I think it is quiet because of the student sectio
(and) the way they seat everyone at Crisler," saia
LSA senior Diego Garcia. "They have all the alum-
ni down low, and if you look at all the other big
stadiums, like Cameron Indoor (Stadium), it has
all students down" around the court.
But Crisler wasn't always quiet. When the her-
alded Fab Five was here - when general admis-
sion seats for the students were first-come, first-
served and the students surrounded the court - it
was packed and it was loud. Well, louder, anyway.
"Obviously it was good, but was it as good as it
could've been? No, it probably could've been bet
ter," said Michigan assistant coach Brian Dutcher,
who is in his 10th year with the program. "The
alumni (buy) tickets year after year, but the stu-
dents, they come for four years. They have got to
be the ones to generate it ... it is their team."
Crisler's quiet nature, however, is not entirely
the fault of the fans. The physical attributes of
Crisler make it difficult to reach ear-ringing levels
- no matter how loud the fans bellow.
Crisler architect Robert Dworsky, a University
alumnus and former Michigan football player,
designed the arena, which opened in Dec. 1967.
Dworsky, who in 44 years as an architect
designed UCLA's track and field stadium and a
terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, said
Crisler was built with acoustical treatment on the
ceiling and walls that decreases the sound capabil-
ities of the arena.
"It's a matter of reflective surfaces, rather than
shape," Dworsky said. "I'm sure a building like
Illinois' Assembly Hall (which houses Illinois bas-
ketball games) tends to focus sound toward speci
ic areas on the floor because it's a dome."
The arena architect said Crisler is less dome-
shaped and more flat, which makes it harder for
the sound to reverberate to floor level.
Crisler building manager Lisa Panetta-Alt said
Crisler's cushioned seats also muffle the sound.
"My suggestions would be to get rid of the
padded seats and then put in bleachers," said
Panetta-Alt, who is responsible for all of Crisler's
daily operations. "Make the first 10-15 rows al
students."
Can "The Cemetery" regain a lively atmosphere
once again, with rowdy fans supporting a
Michigan team that is still ticking? Dutcher said
he's not sure.
"There's got to be some way in between where
we can get our students involved," he said.
"Because in the end, any great home crowd starts
with the students. A majority of the enthusiasm
comes from the students."

Scenes like this one, after Michigan beat then-No. 1 Duke on Dec. 13, are hard to
come by in Crisler Arena.
Suggestions for improvement
Anyone can point out Crisler's flaws, but the Daily's basketball writers are tak-
ing it one step further. Below is a list of suggestions they believe could improve
Michigan men's basketball team's less-than-advantageous home court.

Move the student section entire-
ly down around the court, as in
Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium
and Michigan State's Breslin
Center.
Play at Yost.
Provide free bus service from
University residence halls to and
from Crisler on game days -' the
walk from Couzens is a killer.
Get the band more involved
(again, see Yost). Superfan
shouldn't have to organize every
single cheer throughout the game
all by himself - an active band
could help.

Turn on all the lights. The place
is darker than a Batman movie.
Entice some of the nation's
finest young talent - no wait, that
didn't work.
Trash the alumni-first approach
and surrender the good seats to
the students on a first-come, first-
served basis, as they are at Duke.
Contend for the Big Ten title -
no, that hasn't worked, either.
Officially turn Crisler into a
library and build a new arena. If
nothing else, short-term interest
will be high.
3 Sell beer.

Problems plagued 'Events Center' from the beginning

By Sharat Raju
Daily Sports Editor
No reported spirits haunt the venue that has been dubbed
"The Mausoleum." But Crisler Arena's birth seemed like an
eerie warning and an inauspicious beginning.
Countless problems in the arena's construction and inaugu-
ration beg the question - was Crisler ever meant to be?
First of all, the price of construction was more than twice
the $3 million proposal accepted by the Board in Control of
Intercollegiate Athletics in 1964. When construction was final-
ly completed in 1968, the tab totaled $7.2 million.
The first game also was an ominous sign for the Wolverines.
Adolph Rupp's Kentucky squad pounded Michigan, 96-79,
on Dec. 2, 1967, at the "Events Building," as the structure was
originally called.
The building was formally named Crisler Arena in honor of
former Michigan Athletic Director and football coaching leg-
end Herbert "Fritz" Crisler. He spearheaded an athletic cam-
pus overhaul that started in the 1940s, including the construc-
tion of the Matt Mann Pool, a clubhouse on the University
Golf Course and a press facility in Michigan Stadium.
The Crisler dedication ceremony on Feb. 27, 1968, was sup-
posed to unveil "this magnificent structure, (which) serves as
an impressive tribute to the continuing growth of Michigan
athletics, and to the 'U' itself," according to a souvenir
brochure for the ceremony.
The fact that the dedication ceremony even came to fruition

was impressive in itself. For 18 months, construction was pro-
longed due to unforeseen problems.
On May 10, 1966, carpenters and brick layers went on
strike, delaying construction for more than a month. In that
same year on Aug. 19, a cable on a crane broke, causing a 120-
ton truss to "cut the wall like a knife," Crisler said.
When the arena finally opened on Dec. 2, 1967, there were
still problems. Construction wasn't completed - and it
showed. A leak developed in the roof and the faucets only
poured out cold water, according to former Michigan players.
The fans were quite fond of the Yost Field House - now
Yost Ice Arena - where the basketball team played for 44
seasons.
Cazzie Russell, one of Michigan's most decorated basket-
ball players ever, had excited fans just a few seasons earlier in
the old "Barn." The new venue was quickly dubbed "The
House that Cazzie Built," though he never played there.
In spite of the attachment fans had to the old arena, the new
home featured some revolutionary design concepts. All the
entrances to Crisler are located on a single level for conve-
nience. Also, there is no natural lighting in the building -
only artificial, adjustable lights.
"The venerable structure obviously had outgrown its use-
fulness as a basketball facility because of the rapid growth of
the student body and the rise of Michigan basketball's for-
tunes," an Athletic Department publication stated, in reference
to Yost.

As revolutionary as Crisler was, the new home seemed alien
to the crowd. An unidentified fan, in a story in the Dec. 3,
1967, edition of The Michigan Daily, said he had to show a
pass to exit the stadium, as well as when he entered.
The old arena, Yost, was later transformed into an eight-lap
indoor track that even housed winter baseball. Yost, now home
to the Michigan men's hockey team, is the loud, intimidating
venue that Crisler has never become.
Meanwhile, Crisler has seen its share of highs and lows. Few
would argue that the arena -was an exciting place in 1989.
Michigan surprised the country when it captured the NCAA
Championship that year under then-interim coach Steve Fisher.
The success of that year allowed the University to purchase
the overhead scoreboard that is in place at Crisler today. And
with the publicity the University received, Michigan was able
to land one of the best recruiting classes in the history of col-
lege basketball - the Fab Five.
But in recent years, enthusiasm has dropped off. A variety
of alleged recruiting violations and other controversies have
added to the lull. Although little came of the allegations, a sti
ma has apparently stuck with the program.
The basketball program had difficulty selling season tickets
last fall and was overshadowed by the hockey program.
Hockey and football season tickets were all sold out, and
demand was so high this year that some students received split-
season packages. The basketball program, of course, had no
such problem.

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