'Personally, I didn't have an opinion,' Dr. Mark Schlissel, who started his job this week, said Friday during a press conference with the media. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
Ann Arbor — A day after fireworks exploded Thursday among the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents, when they shot down a proposal to bring fireworks to two home football games this season, UM’s new president said he was fortunate that he didn’t have to cast a vote.
“Personally, I didn’t have an opinion,” Dr. Mark Schlissel, who started his job this week, said Friday during a press conference with the media. “Having never attended a game there, I didn’t have a sense of the cultural aspects of it. The band marching out, I’ve never seen. I’ve never seen them at a halftime show. I don’t have context to really say whether fireworks matter or not. I didn’t really feel like I had a valid opinion.”
Close-proximity fireworks were under consideration Thursday for when the Wolverines take on Miami University during a late afternoon game on Sept. 13 and Penn State University during a night game on Oct. 11.
But several regents expressed concern about issues such as safety, tradition and excess in the Big House, which is the biggest collegiate stadium in the nation, seating more than 100,000.
Regent Laurence Deitch began the heated discussion by noting he would vote against the proposal since he thought the fireworks risks would outweigh the benefits, it is disrespectful to neighbors and not consistent with the university’s culture and values.
“I have religiously attended (UM) football games for 50 years,” Deitch said. “I have not found that experience lacking of fireworks.”
He added that UM is about class, dignity and a tough, winning football team.
When Deitch asked about insurance coverage by the company planning to shoot fireworks, Hank Baier, associate vice president for facilities, reported it to be $5 million — which Deitch called “ridiculously low.”
Regent Mark Bernstein, who also voted against the displays at both games, called fireworks a “huge symbolic issue.”
“We are not Comerica Park, Disney World or a circus ... ” Bernstein said. “I love Michigan football for what it is ... and for what it is not. It remains and should be an experience, a place that resists the excesses of our culture; intentionally simple.
“The fireworks should be on the field, not above it.”
Dave Ablauf, UM associate athletic director, said after the vote: “The athletic department appreciates the feedback and concerns expressed by the regents. We will move forward with different plans for the football season.”
Not all of the board members were opposed to the fireworks. The regents voted separately on each game. Regents in favor of the fireworks during the day game included Andrew Richner, Shauna Ryder Diggs and Andrea Fischer Newman. Diggs voted against using them during the night game; Chairwoman Katherine White was absent.
The regents previously approved pregame fireworks for the rededication of Michigan Stadium and at the “Big Chill” hockey game at the facility between UM and Michigan State, both in 2010.
“If done in a responsible way,” Richner said, “I think it’s OK.”
Angelique S. Chengelis contributed