UM spends $8K on Big Ten rings; plane on the side

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The University of Michigan spent about $8,000 on rings to celebrate the men’s basketball team’s memorable run to the Big Ten tournament championship last season.

The silver rings, which feature an airplane on one side to remember the scary, runway incident at Willow Run that delayed Michigan’s arrival in Washington, D.C., until just hours before its opening tip, were purchased for $189 apiece from Balfour, according to invoice documents obtained by The News through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Michigan ordered 48 rings, and paid for 40 of them at the $189 price, which included individual inscription.

The eight other rings were ordered for significant others of persons affiliated with the program, like the wives of coach John Beilein and athletic director Warde Manuel. Those rings were $169 each, without inscription, and were not paid for by Michigan.

The total bill was $9,446.72, including sales tax and including the rings for which Michigan was reimbursed. The university actually had room to spare on the budget for the rings, at least according to NCAA regulations, which stipulate any single award for a player winning a conference championship may not exceed $325.

The limit for a national-championship award is $415, and while it’s unclear if an NIT championship counts, the women’s basketball team did not receive rings for its WNIT title last season. The program only received a banner, which now hangs in Crisler Center.

Everyone on the men’s team’s roster, coaching staff and support staff received a ring, including, it’s worth noting, Austin Hatch, who left the program as a player in 2015 but remained around as an assistant. The survivor of two deadly plane crashes before he arrived at Michigan, Hatch was in class and not on the plane last March when it struggled to take off in strong winds at Willow Run in Ypsilanti and eventually aborted takeoff, skidding to a halt near a ravine and sustaining significant damage.

The Wolverines’ takeoff was delayed until the following morning, hours before its opening game against Illinois in Washington, D.C. Michigan (26-12), wearing practice jerseys as its regular uniforms were still stuck in the belly of the airplane back home, smoked Illinois in the first game, then beat Purdue in overtime, before toppling Minnesota in the semifinals and Wisconsin in the championship game.

The performance sealed the Wolverines’ bid into the NCAA Tournament, where they made the Sweet 16, falling to eventual Final Four team Oregon.

The plane incident became quite the national narrative, and also seemed to loosen the Wolverines up, especially their coach, Beilein, a typically stoic man who in the postseason decided to join in his team’s postgame, water-bottle celebrations by sneaking up on them with a Super Soaker.

The Super Soaker didn’t make it on to the rings, which feature a blue-outlined block M on the top, and the player or coach’s name on one side, opposite the plane, basketball and Big Ten logo on the other.

The rings were ordered in September and shipped in October, and were handed out just prior to this season.