Friday, November 11, 2011

Honoring Veterans and Michigan Innovation

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary

It’s Veterans Day, and some Michiganders are commemorating the holiday in a very unique and exciting way.

The Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team will open their season this afternoon against pre-season #1 ranked North Carolina. While it would be exciting in and of itself for two of the most successful basketball programs to tip off the season against each other, the game today is even more remarkable because of where it is being played and how it came about.

The Spartans and Tar Heels will play the game today outdoors on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier docked in the San Diego, CA harbor. President Barack Obama and roughly 7,000 active duty service men and women will be in the make-shift stands on board the deck of the aircraft carrier that laid Osama bin Laden to rest at sea earlier this year.

That’s just the scene and you can get most of that information online or during the broadcast during today’s game. However, if you watch the game tonight, do not be fooled into thinking that this was the brainchild and product of the ESPN mothership.

The Quicken Loans Carrier Classic tonight is the brainchild of Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis who over the past decade has been at the forefront of innovation in college athletics and another fantastic example of the state of Michigan being a leader in leadership and innovation.

It was Hollis, then the associate athletic director, who came up with the idea for the “Cold War” hockey game between Michigan and Michigan State to be played outdoors in Spartan Stadium in 2001. The game set an at-the-time attendance record for a hockey game and established a model for additional outdoor hockey games. The National Hockey League’s (NHL) now annual Hockey Classic, played annually on New Year’s Day, is held outdoors and has been played in historic venues such as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. And last year, the Spartans and Wolverines held a “Cold War” rematch in the Big House. These exciting outdoor hockey contests all got their start after the success of the first “Cold War” game.

Another Hollis idea, the 2003 “Basketbowl” between Michigan State and Kentucky at Ford Field set the attendance record for a basketball game (and still a record for a college basketball game). Not only did the game feature two marquee basketball programs in a new football facility, but it changed the mold by placing the basketball court in the center of the football field. Previously, basketball games played in big football stadiums put the court in one of the end zones and blocked off half of the stadium seating. The game’s successes paved the way for the NCAA Final Four to be held in Detroit at Ford Field in 2009 and set the current standard of holding the Final Four in giant indoor football stadiums with the court located on the 50 yard-line.

The Carrier Classic is Hollis’ latest innovation and if today’s game is successful, another standard bearer as the game is proposed to be an annual event to help draw attention to the start of the college basketball season, but more importantly, to bring attention and support for America’s service men and women on Veteran’s Day.

The game wouldn’t have happened without the support of another Spartan, Dan Gilbert, CEO of Quicken Loans, who is sponsoring the game to the tune of $3 million covering most of the costs of the event (hence the official name: “Quicken Loans Carrier Classic”), and the Morale Entertainment Foundation, founded by former US Marine, Mike Whalen, who had the connections and drive to make the logistics work.

The game airs today at 7PM EST on ESPN. Watch to cheer on the Spartans in hopes that they can pull off an upset win. Better yet that the game and the secret post-game concert act provide great entertainment for America’s service men and women who will be attendance and it helps bring attention to Veterans Day as much more than a federal holiday.

More importantly, take a moment today to say a prayer for the men and women, past and present, who have served to protect and defend the United States of America.