Michigan State concocted a clever way to energize a student section that drew criticism for not being as intimidating as usual last season.
Students received the chance to attempt one half-court shot last Wednesday apiece on a temporary grass court that featured two regulation baskets, a Spartans logo at midcourt and lines drawn in white paint. The 21 students who made their shot received season-long admission into the Izzone, a 13-game season ticket package valued at $186 apiece.
"The idea came out of a meeting between [Michigan State's Student Alumni Foundation] and the athletic marketing department about how we could get students more interested in purchasing Izzone tickets this year," Dan DiMaggio of the Michigan State Alumni Association told the school's official site. "We thought, hey, we've got a gorgeous week coming up. Let's bring a basketball court outside and see if some kids can make some half-court shots."
The urgency to reinvigorate the Izzone increased last January when Michigan State coach Tom Izzo requested more from the section that bears his name. Izzo noted the alumni who filled the Izzone seats over Christmas break last season were louder and more in tune with the game than the students had been, contributing to a key come-from-behind win over Indiana.
"They (need to) realize how important they are to us," Izzo said. "In my mind, that swing in that Indiana game was so drastic, I don't think you come back from that. Emotionally, we were so up, we had such a big lead, we went so down. That crowd (of former Izzone members and the community) just willed us back."
Michigan State has addressed that problem this offseason by adopting a new method of seating that will reward the most devoted, early-arriving students in the first half of the season with the best seats during conference play. Events like Wednesday's will also help, especially because of the effort the Michigan State players and coaches made to make it fun for the students.
Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and other Spartans signed autographs, posed for pictures and offered advice before their fellow students attempted their half-court shots. And Izzo took a break from recruiting to interact with the students, though his attempt at a half-court shot apparently failed to draw iron.
"It has been fun to have everyone stop by," Izzo said. "Give our guys credit who came up with the idea because it wasn't me."