By now just about everyone has heard that the University of Michigan has a big, shiny renovated football stadium. “The Big House” can once again claim the notoriety of having the largest football stadium in the country. Everything that was old is now new – spiffed-up, refurbished, redone. Plus there’s more. Fancy club seats, luxury suites, and elevators, tucked under a smart-looking brick exterior. But settling in 109,901+ people each game day is not without its pitfalls. Under the guise of providing “security” and “safety” to fans, the Big House comes with a new set of Big Rules. So the big change this year? Fans may not bring bags of any kind, even small purses or diaper bags, and may no longer bring water bottles. Let’s face it – we all know the purpose of the new rules have nothing to do with security and everything to do with capturing revenue by preventing fans from bringing in their own food and drink for the games.
In previous years, fans were allowed to bring a sealed water bottle into the stadium, to avoid the staggering logistics of 109,901+ people all visiting concession stands at the same time on a hot day. Well no more. Stadium officials expect the 109,901+ to now get in an out of seats and saunter up the official concession area, where fans can purchase a beverage, or stand in line at one of the many free water stations or drinking fountains. Logistically, this is a nightmare. Even if all the fans opted to periodically visit the beverage areas, getting in and out of one’s seat, up the aisles and back again is a Herculean feat. While the few high rollers in the club seats and suites have plenty of room to move around, the 100,000 + in steerage can barely move. Seat space in the bleachers is limited to about 10 inches per bottom, even though the average football fan, the majority of whom are male, have a much larger posterior. Once everyone is seated, there is less room for fans to walk through the rows than there is in a typical airplane row. If one does decide to leave, literally everyone in the row is obligated to stand up to let anyone enter or exit. Once into the aisle, fans often stand in line for some time just to exit the section to get to concessions or restrooms. With movement so difficult, most sensible and seasoned fans opt to stay in their seats for the entire game, or plan to make only one trip out during the game, to avoid inconvenience to themselves and their seatmates. On a hot day, as many of the first few games are, this spells heat exhaustion for fans packed into bleachers, unable to get out to the concession area to get water. Doesn’t matter how many drinking fountains you put in, Michigan, if the fans can’t get out to them.
The other irritating rule about bags and purses? Large bags have been banned for some time, but last year fans could bring a small purse and those with children could bring a diaper bag. No purses for women? Come on Michigan – how sexist!. How are women supposed to carry the bare essentials – we don’t have that many pockets. And no diaper bags? Fans with babies are encouraged to bring their diaper essentials in “a clear plastic bag” subject to inspection.
We all know the real problem is not the middle-aged women with purses and parents with diaper bags, but the scores of students who bring contraband into every single game. I’ve seen the post-game detritus time after time: quarts of Jack Daniels and Captain Morgan, empty of course, marshmallows, various other alcohol containers, including beer, wine coolers and all-purpose flasks, food, confetti, and even clothing (what were they wearing by the time they left?)
And so my companion and I got ready to go to our first Michigan game of the season. Wish I had some cargo pants, but I’m wearing khakis with tiny pockets, typical of women’s clothing. So, into the left front pocket goes my cell phone and chapstick. Right front pocket – car keys and tissues. I better not need to blow my nose more than once or twice or I’ll be using my sleeve. Fortunately the usual hot weather did not materialize so at least I am able to wear a jacket – that gives me two more pockets. Left front pocket – sunglasses. Right front pocket – credit card and cash. It would be nice to bring a camera, but I would be stuck holding it for the whole game, so forget that. I’m already carrying binoculars, which ARE allowed, but don’t you dare bring the case.
After much pregame fan brouhaha, Michigan did concede to provide commemorative water bottles to every fan at the first game – guess they decided that cases of mass heat exhaustion would bring bad publicity to the first game. The game was great – impressive dedication ceremonies, Brock leading the team onto the field, and a Michigan victory, all while the fans in steerage sat packed elbow to elbow into their 10 inch space for a good four hours.
And did the new rules help cut down on contraband? As we walked out of the stadium we saw the same detritus littering the stands that we always see. But at least stadium officials prevented whatever security risk might have occurred had I been allowed to bring in my six-inch purse.
- Michigan Stadium’s capacity set at 109,901 (sportingnews.com)