In the Zone
It didn’t take long for Steven Neville, also known as one of the Angry Birds that flocked the Breslin Center this past season, to respond to one simple question — what comes to mind when thinking of the Izzone?
“Loud,” the hospitality business junior said. “We took a road trip to the Michigan game and even though they were on break, their student section was just timid. Even the games when we’re on break, it’s just loud.”
The Izzone, the MSU men’s basketball student section named after MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo, has received national recognition as one of the top student sections across the country since its birth in 1995, helping the team stay successful at Breslin Center with only two home losses the past two seasons.
With the final home game of the season this past Sunday, the Izzone won’t be on display in East Lansing until November, but the games will continue and the rowdy student section won’t rest until the final whistle.
With tournament games coming up, Neville isn’t ready to pack up his Angry Birds hat yet — he’s looking forward to the upcoming Big Ten and NCAA Tournament.
Members of the Izzone toss newspapers in the air before the game Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated Ohio State 59-56, improving MSU's record to 5-1 in the Big Ten Conference. Adam Toolin/The State News
Political science and pre-law sophomore Joey Todak cheers in the Izzone before the men's basketball team's matchup with No. 4 Michigan. MSU defeated U-M, 75-52, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, at Breslin Center. Justin Wan/The State News
With the word Izzo written on his chest, marketing junior Wilson Shaner stands during the national anthem. MSU defeated Michigan, 75-21, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, at Breslin Center. Justin Wan/The State News
Behind the game
On game day, the Izzone is represented by the 2,800-plus students who attend the games, but there is more behind the scenes of the fanatic student section.
The Izzone is associated with the Student Alumni Foundation, or SAF, with three directors who help prepare all of the game day items, such as newsletters, paper bags popped on the first basket and other game day add-in’s, Izzone Co-Director Brandon Heins said.
The student directors spend a minimum of four hours each week creating the newsletters, updating the attendance point system, and constantly monitoring emails and their social media outlets to communicate with fans.
They, as well as section leaders, arrive up to three hours early to set up the items for that day’s game on the seats. After everything is set up, they head up stairs and scan in the students, eventually arriving to their own seats right at tip of the game, Heins said.
Another facet that makes up the Izzone management is the attendance point system, which was instrumented this past season to monitor who deserves one of the 1,400 lower-bowl seats.
Students earn points for each game they attend, earning additional points for arriving early.
“We know who our top point-getters are, and that determines who sits lower bowl. I think we are the only school who does this,” SAF Vice President Sports Operations Matt Martin said. “We are one of the top-five biggest basketball student sections in the country, (so) we have to do that to manage it.”
For Heins, a lifetime Spartan fan, holding his position as a co-director for the Izzone is worth the time and effort.
“I like having a part in the basketball team’s success,” Heins said. “I just like being able to give that little bit of help to the basketball team and being involved in an indirect way.”
Opinion from a distance
If you ask every Izzone member, they will most likely rule their own student section as the best, but the group of rambunctious students has gained attention from outside of Spartan country.
For the Block O, or the Ohio State student section, Director of Men’s Basketball Operations Sarah Wynn considers the Izzone one of the best in the Big Ten.
“I would say it comes down to (MSU) and Purdue as the best in the Big Ten,” Wynn said, excluding Ohio State from the mix. “When we went through rebranding a few years ago, we looked at what things Purdue, Michigan State and Duke did to help us improve.”
Josh Schoch, a featured columnist from Bleacher Report, a website for sports news, believes the Izzone ranks amongst the best college fans, not only in the Big Ten, but in the country.
Schoch ranked the Izzone as the fourth-best student section in college basketball in an article published on the website in 2011, and he still considers the group of Spartans as elites today.
“I still would rank the Izzone from four to seven,” he said. “And (it) is still definitely one of the top student sections.”
Loud beyond Breslin
The first game of the 2013 Men’s Basketball Big Ten Tournament is a day away from tip, and the Izzone will be in attendance for all of the MSU action — the group sold out all of the tickets they were given.
Secondary education social sciences sophomore Jordan Van Dyk, who on average arrived to conference games six hours early, was enticed to make the trip to the Big Ten Tournament this year, but held back because he has bigger plans for the near future.
“We’re saving that money for a Final Four trip,” Van Dyk said. “We think this team can make it, so were saving for a trip to Atlanta.”
While Van Dyk is looking ahead to the Final Four, Izzo still is focused on the Big Ten Tournament and encouraging the fans to travel there.
“The fans are the best we’ve had in a long time,” Izzo said during his senior day speech Sunday, following the regular season finale against Northwestern. “See you in Chicago.”