I was privileged enough to receive a tour of the new suites by the University of Michigan’s Vice President of School Spirit, Charles Mellner. When the group meets Mellner, I ask him about the controversy over graduation—the fact that work on the new luxury skyboxes prevented it from being held in the Big House, its traditional venue.

Mellner, a big man with a big laugh, answers with a wide grin. “It was regrettable, but after all there’s a graduation every year. Each and every game is unique, and we’d do our fans a grave disservice if games were delayed.” One can understand why. Season tickets for the boxes start at the price of a fully-loaded luxury sedan.

The entryway is laid with Italian marble, with a grand staircase leading upwards. Mellner begins the tour asking if we recognize it; no one does. I mention that it looks like the staircase on the Titanic; at this, he claps delightedly. “It is! Either an exact replica or the original, raised from the ocean floor and refurbished at incredible expense.” Coyly, Mellner refuses to confirm which.

We’re then led into a standard box, with Second Empire carpeting, inlaid hardwood floors, and leather chairs. Each is equipped with a minibar—domestic and imported liquors are on tap—and a snack bar run by a major franchise—in this case, a Pizza Hut Express. “The boxes provide everything a Wolverine fan could want,” Mellner beams. “Access to the game from a superior viewpoint, and the staff is ready and able to provide a massage or salon treatment on demand.”

Mellner leads us to the front of the box, to a red switch under a lucite cover. “This signals to the field that the occupants want the last play repeated. It’s perfect for when a patron has to go to the bathroom; a comfort that the TiVo generation demands.”

This is trifling compared to the executive suite, which occupies a full floor. Designed to the standards of the Saudi royal family, the suite is pure six-star extravagance. Up the marble staircase and across the onyx flagstones set in a pool of vintage champagne, I ask Mellner about handicap accessibility. How can he justify the suite’s lavish layout when the university’s being sued by Wolverines in Wheelchairs?

“It’s actually not a problem,” Mellner says with an easy laugh. “There are only 16 people on Earth who can afford season tickets to the executive suite, and none are disabled.” I nod. “We think that’ll hold up in court,” he adds, grinning. After all, the people with tickets include the Chief Justice of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and 3 members of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Will students be allowed to use the boxes?” I ask.

“We recognize that students have an important role,” Mellner replies. “Namely, they serve to fill out the stands, which helps preserve the sense that one’s in the Big House. Naturally, we can’t allow students in the boxes; might cause our paying customers discomfort.”

Mellner directs me to a series of fire hoses in the stairwell, which are actually for crowd control, to prevent unruly students from storming the boxes, alongside the 50-man uniformed security contingent. In an emergency, all of the service personnel are armed and fully deputized by the city of Ann Arbor.

“That’s for undergraduates, of course,” Mellner smiles. “Most of our graduate students attended other schools before, so they might be spies for another Big Ten team. As such, they’ll be shot on sight—we have a first-class sniper post at the very top!” I beg and cajole, but we aren’t allowed to see it—it’s not done yet. The live fire trials, involving 120 rhesus monkeys over a 6-week period, don’t begin until next month.

“How much did this all cost?” I ask. Mellner regrets that he can’t tell me; the official figure is classified. Tthere’s a bit of mischievous maize and blue in him, though, and he gives me a candid estimate. The budget was drawn from the general fund, meaning that students’ tuition dollars were immediately transformed into building costs. Mellner estimates that around “30,000 to 40,000 students” gave their entire 4-year tuition to fund the construction—an impressive figure, as the university has only about 41,000 students enrolled at any one time.

And how much of the cost of a luxury skybox ticket goes back to academics? “That’s a different fund,” explains Mellner. “The money we make here is rolled back into the program—new uniforms, multimillion dollar coaching salaries, solid gold cleats for All-American players. Standard expenses.”