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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Crisler Center – Michigan Wolverines

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

Crisler Center 333 E Stadium Blvd Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Year Opened: 1967

Capacity: 13,751


Go Blue: Emerging from the Shadows

Michigan is a football school.

Any way you slice it, the reality sinks in. Michigan is a football school. However, it once again, can’t be said, that Michigan is NOT a basketball school.

Casual fans everywhere would be able to speak on Michigan State as the basketball school and Michigan as the football school. Things began to change in the eighties and culminated in 1989 when Steve Fisher took over the Michigan program before the NCAA Tournament and Michigan ran the table to become National Champions for the first time. The Fab Five era at Michigan brought nearly the highest of highs for the program and probably the lowest of lows. Rebuilding after the probation time was long and arduous, but rewards have started to be felt in Ann Arbor. The hiring of head coach John Beilein and appearances in the NCAA Tournament finals on two occasions in the past decade have insiders taking notice and considering Michigan as an elite program.

Home for the Wolverines is literally in the shadows of The Big House. Named after former football head coach and athletic director Herbert “Fritz” Crisler, Crisler Arena was built in 1967 as one of a host of college basketball arenas shaped like a UFO. With a massive renovation, the renamed Crisler Center has brought Michigan out of the sixties and seventies and given the Wolverines a venue that is competitive with any in the conference, keeping that traditional college basketball feel and balancing it with modern amenities and decor. Representing the Big Ten Conference and the University of Michigan’s over 46,000 students, the Wolverines are literally emerging from the shadows of the famous football program and making noise as one of the top programs in the country.

Food & Beverage 4

The food selection at Crisler Center is decent, yet not spectacular. Hot dogs, brats, kielbasa, burgers, chicken tenders, fries, nachos, pretzels, pizza, Italian sausage, spaghetti, caesar salad, mac and cheese, grilled cheese with pulled pork and tater kegs are all available. Popcorn is not available at Crisler Center, so fans will be required to settle for “Popped Maize.” Prices are what could be expected at a professional experience, which is not surprising. Soft drink options include bottled water and soda are available. Coca-Cola products are the soda of choice at Crisler. As with many college facilities, alcohol is not available for purchase at Crisler Center.

Atmosphere 4

Originally built in 1968, Crisler Center was once like many of the other facilities built in that era. A round structure lacking windows and natural light, Crisler Arena underwent a massive renovation to bring the facility up to modern standards. With that renovation came the renaming of the building to Crisler Center. The exterior of Crisler Center is smart looking with brown brick and the famous block M markings. Gathering areas can be found on the southwest side and the east side has a new entrance and gathering area. The concourses contain some of the most significant changes. Entering from the east will give fans probably the grandest entrance, ascending to the main concourse. One of the concourse highlights can be found at the east entrance which is the Michigan fountain. A huge blue fountain with a giant maise block M gives fans a sense that this is a place where the details have all been considered. Around the concourses the details are obvious with simple yet effective touches like high quality flooring with verses of the fight song etched in. Around the walls there are displays for each of the varsity teams that Michigan fields. There is little to no exposed concrete. The feeling is inviting and warm, which is a far cry from where it once was. Interactive games and display cases with athletic artifacts are great for the fan who enjoys exploring. The large display on Cazzie Russell entitled “The House that Cazzie Built” enlightens fans to some of the Wolverine basketball history.

Inside the seating bowl, fans are greeted with two levels of navy blue, modern, comfortable stadium seats. A far cry from many facilities that still boast benches. The court runs from north to south and a modern video board hangs above center court. The video board is a good size and not overbearing like many that are found in professional venues. The rafters are littered with banners for Big Ten Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances. Proudly hanging in the south end is the 1989 NCAA National Championship banner. Directly across from the championship banner are the retired numbers of Bill Buntin, Cazzie Russell, Phil Hubbard, Glen Rice and Rudy Tomjanovich. Sight lines at Crisler are excellent also and the east side of the building is the spot to be for fans hoping for that perfect picture of the center logo. The students can be found near the court on the west side and the band is in the northeast corner.

The game day experience at Michigan is a real college experience. Most of the music is provided by the band. The cheerleaders and pom team add to the atmosphere on the court. The game is not overproduced and there is not a ton of advertising. Overall, there is a great feeling to Michigan basketball.

Neighborhood 4

Crisler Center is located on the campus of the University of Michigan south of most of the academic buildings. There are a ton of great spots to check out before or after the game, but they are about 2 km away from Crisler Center, so hopping in the car is probably the best idea. Downtown, between E Liberty and E Huron Streets, are where most of the best spots are found. Blue Tractor BBQ, Ashley’s, Arbor Brewing Company and Taste Kitchen are just a few of the best choices.

The University of Michigan fields a full complement of athletic teams. The most popular of which include the Michigan football team, which plays at Michigan Stadium and the Wolverines ice hockey team, which plays at the Yost Ice Arena. Fans with youngsters may also want to check out the Ann Arbor Hands On Children’s Museum.

There are also plenty of hotel options for fans who need to stay in the area. The Holiday Inn Ann Arbor is south of the athletic campus and Bell Tower is downtown. Both are good choices.

Fans 4

Michigan Wolverine basketball fans fall somewhere in-between hardcore and ambivalent. Michigan routinely enjoys more than 10,000 fans per game. This is not in the top 30 NCAA experiences and lower than a number of Big Ten programs including Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois and Ohio State. There is definitely room to grow and with more continual success, Michigan fans can be expected to fill the gap. The opponent has a significant affect on the attendance and Big Ten and rivalry opponents draw better than the first few games of the season. The fans in attendance are solid basketball fans making noise at all of the right times. The student section, although solid, is not nearly as remarkable as those in the upper echelon of NCAA basketball schools.

Access 4

Crisler Center is on the campus of the University of Michigan. It is fairly central to Ann Arbor equidistant from I-94 and Highway 23, the main highways around the city. Getting to Crisler Center will require some travel through the city. Considering that this town welcomes over 110,000 fans for Wolverine football games, getting 10,000 in and out of Crisler Center is not too difficult. That being said, heading in and out of Ann Arbor on game day is not totally simple. For fans who wish to take public transportation, there are buses that travel throughout the Michigan Campus. Check the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority website for maps, fares and schedules.

Although a college facility, Crisler Center has security measures that rival most professional experiences. Fans are encouraged to research the security procedures and prohibited items before heading to Crisler. The Michigan Wolverines website has all of the details. Research on finding a parking spot before hand is also a good practice. There are a number of parking options and possibly on the golf course right across the street. The closest parking options are for donors and season ticket holders. Parking can be found between $10 and $30 in most cases.

Getting around Crisler Center is not too difficult. The concourses are a decent width and the washroom facilities are adequate.

Return on Investment 4

Michigan Wolverines basketball offers a solid return on investment. Ticket prices depend on the opponent. Big Ten opponent games offer tickets between $20 and $25. Michigan State tickets will run $45 and Ohio State will run $30. The atmosphere is terrific at Crisler and fans will not be disappointed with the experience. Parking and concessions are not considered cheap, but a Michigan experience will be more affordable than many professional games.

Extras 4

An extra mark for the significant rivalries that Michigan carries. Although they are also rivals on the gridiron and the ice, opponents Michigan State and Ohio State make up some of the best rivalries on the hard court as well.

An extra mark for a program emerging from the seemingly endless shadow of the football program.

An extra mark for the great job the University of Michigan has done in reinventing and renovating Crisler Center.

An extra mark for the excellent product on the court that Michigan has provided lately.

Final Thoughts

Michigan may not be the first thought when it comes to NCAA basketball. However, the Wolverines have been a great team recently with appearances in the National Championship final to prove it. Crisler Center has seen some significant improvements and fans will not be disappointed in their experience at the House that Cazzie Built. It may not be a basketball bucket list item, but the Michigan Wolverines will provide a pleasant surprise for those attending for the first time.


Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.

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