Nov. 1, 2006
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Seeing 100,000-plus fans cram into Michigan Stadium has become as synonymous with college football's winningest team as winged helmets.
The second-ranked Wolverines host Ball State this week in a lackluster matchup, but it's expected to be the 200th straight game - dating to 1975 - that at least 100,000 will fill The Big House.
Michigan Stadium is expected to change its look by the end of the decade, and the proposed luxury suite towers along both sidelines have ignited some passionate opposition to altering the look of the famed bowl structure.
Before the home finale Saturday, Michigan's players will turn left out of their locker room and head down a long, steep tunnel that spills out onto the field. Once they hit daylight and are welcomed by a sea of fans clad in maize and blue, they'll sprint across the turf and leap to slap a blue banner with "M GO BLUE" in maize letters.
"There's a spark, some electricity, every time you run out onto the field," quarterback Chad Henne said. "It's something that never gets old.
"This is the best place to play football in the country."
At 107,501 seats, it's also the largest, befitting the nickname ABC's famed broadcaster Keith Jackson is credited with creating about 10 years ago.
Athletic department officials are hoping to get approval later this month from the University of Michigan's Board of Regents on a $226 million renovation that will add luxury suites in arched, towering brick structures.
The proposed changes only will increase the capacity slightly because seats will be wider - instead of the current spacing that makes it nearly impossible for a full row of spectators to sit. Aisles also will be bigger and more accommodations are designed to help comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If the regents give the design approval, they will award the job next spring to a company that is expected to have construction completed in time for the 2010 season.
The cost will not be passed on to season-ticket holders, Michigan athletic director Bill Martin said earlier this week.
"About 5,000 people in the premium-seating areas will pay 100 percent of the costs," he said. "We're also committed to not paying for this with advertising. That's a source of revenue that we'll continue to forego at a cost of about $5 million annually in potential revenue, and we take great pride in that fact."
Martin acknowledged that the proposed changes are not unanimously popular. He said the opposing views reflect how much people care about Michigan football and its storied stadium.
"It's healthy," Martin said. "We've gotten some good suggestions."
Incorporating bricks throughout the new-look stadium is one example of feedback leading to fruition, but eliminating the luxury suites is what the Save the Big House group truly wants.
"They're making costly mistakes, not just in dollars, but in terms of unity in the stadium among people that have come together for years from a lot of different backgrounds," said Save The Big House's John Pollack, whose Web site was created in August 2005. "It's also been costly from a trust standpoint because this process has been rammed through, which has hurt the university's credibility. People with different viewpoints don't feel like they're being heard."
Pollack, a season-ticket holder who lives in New York City, has put up an aggressive fight to stop the project's momentum.
"The forces supporting the proposed changes would like people to think the horse has left the barn, but that's not true," he said. "This is David versus Goliath, but we have a number of Davids weighing in on our side."
At a recent home game, season-ticket holder Craig Cable understood both sides of the debate after viewing Web sites created by the university and Pollack with the proposed changes and the opposition to those alterations.
"I like the traditional look - the brick that they're doing - but I am a traditionalist and like the bowl," said Cable, a 36-year-old fan from Monroe. "It's the Big House. I don't want it to change, but I can see why they want to do it."