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October 10, 2013Those who lived the early 1990s in Ann Arbor would call them the glory days of Michigan athletics (something only those who were around in the late 1940s might argue). Michigan football was in the midst of five straight Big Ten titles. The 1989 national champions brought Michigan basketball to new heights, and the Fab Five turned the volume up a few more decibels in becoming the most celebrated team of its era.
We'd be remiss not to mention Red Berenson's hockey program, too, a giant awakening from its slumber at the beginning of the decade and arguably the best program in the country when Charles Woodson won his Heisman Trophy during U-M's 1997 championship football season.
Each program stands alone, but their collective successes help not only one another, but also the university as a whole. Michigan became the place to be in the early 1990s. Applications for admission went from 17,744 in 1991, the year before the Fab Five arrived, to 19,687 in 1996, a year after the last had left.
After the 1997 national title season, the following admissions cycle boasted a 22 percent increase in applications.
"We view it as our responsibility to be the front porch of the University, simply because of the global reach we have through our athletic programs," Athletic Director David Brandon said. "We have student athletes traveling all over the country as well as all over the world competing wearing the Maize and Blue and representing our university."
Within that model, the coaches would note that positive national visibility helps every program. Some firmly believe the dark and dismal, pre-renovated Crisler Arena (and yes, its product) of the early 2000s actually hurt Michigan's football recruiting efforts. Saturday afternoon in front of several empty seats wasn't exactly a strong selling point for the athletic department. Conversely, recruits who took in a Friday night at Yost Ice Arena couldn't help but be impressed with the raucous crowd and great environment.
Many football recruits, though, are huge basketball fans, and vice versa. Even LaMarr Woodley once admitted MSU basketball's Breslin Center compared to Crisler was one of the reasons he once favored the Spartans.
The significance isn't lost on Michigan head coach John Beilein.
"That's my kind of school," he said earlier this fall at a Detroit Economic Club meeting inside Crisler Center, now one of the best basketball facilities in the country. "There are so many corollaries between having a great football and basketball program and you have so many opportunities to both recruit and show them that you're going to have the time of your life following Michigan football. I've been at schools where there wasn't a football program and the amount of social life and school spirit makes you proud to be a Wolverine.
It goes both ways, he added.
"I think both teams feed off each other in these kinds of opportunities," Beilein said." When we've had big basketball games here, it's been a huge recruiting tool for [U-M football coach] Brady [Hoke] to see a Michigan State game or an Ohio State game."
Evidence the other way is available in a single photo of U-M's night game with Notre Dame Sept. 7. Taken from the south end zone, the shot includes the Michigan basketball team (including Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Trey Burke) and coaches celebrating wildly while receiver Jeremy Gallon put the finishing touches on a 61-yard touchdown in the north end zone. The team was on the field in preparation to be honored during a timeout for its run to the national title game, and just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Portland, Ore. four-star wing Kameron Chatman, Rivals.com's No. 29 player nationally, cited being on the field with the team as the favorite part of his official visit. A month later he surprised nearly everyone and committed to the Wolverines over Arizona, Oregon and others.
Chatman was one of over 160 recruits in different sports who were on the field that night.
"Basketball recruits were on the field saying, 'Wow,'" he recalled. "I couldn't even begin to get to all of them because there were so many.
"We've had great momentum working together. It all feeds off itself."
And it doesn't look to end soon. Michigan football continues its ascent, recruiting with the best programs in the country over the past few years. Basketball is preseason top 10 after its Final Four run and is still young, the coaches recruiting with the nation's top programs, too. Incoming freshman Zak Irvin was Mr. Basketball in the talent rich state of Indiana, a state U-M continues to raid.
Demand for tickets is "up there" with some of the best seasons all-time, ticket manager Steve Lambright said.
"It would be very similar to the year following our National Championship in 1989 and then the 1992-93, season I would say," he said. Student ticket refunds were issued to those who didn't want to split them after 4,500 were applied for. The number now stands at 3,874, while season ticket packages are sold out.
In short, Michigan football and basketball are competing at a high level and should be for a while. Get your tickets while you can.