Michigan State’s Izzone continues legacy as strongest student section in college hoops
It means something to be part of the Izzone, as the group of students who gather to cheer MSU men’s basketball team are a key part of the Breslin Center’s atmosphere. For the students who lead the Izzone, there’s a lot of work and dedication.
At Michigan State, basketball has a deep history and tradition. There have been championships, deep tournament runs, great games and great moments over the years. At the center of it all is the Izzone, the famed student section responsible for the memorable chants and traditions that create the Breslin Center’s intense gameday atmosphere.
But it’s not possible without the MSU students that volunteer to lead the student section - 21 of them in all. After passing through an application and interview process, junior Reese Carlson and senior Chandler Hollister became student leaders for the Izzone. They shared their experiences of what it’s like to lead students during games, and how sportsmanship is maintained among the Spartan fans.
The long game days for student leaders are filled with responsibilities. It starts early, with leaders expected to be at the Breslin Center at least two hours and 30 minutes before tip-off. Once inside, they begin setting up the Izzone seats. This includes putting down materials used for traditions, such as paper bags and newspapers, and occasionally things like coupons. Afterwards, the section leaders help scan tickets for students in the Izzone, all before the game even starts.
“We show up pretty much before everybody,” said Hollister. “No one’s even in there.”
During the game, section leaders are still hard at work. They’re responsible for leading chants and traditions for the whole student section. The leaders aim to show the rest of the student section how to take part in coordinated chants.
“You’re kind of meant to be more of an example of what to do,” said Carlson. “You’ll see us standing, cheering, doing all the little dances with the band … as an example.”
When it comes to chants, Carlson and Hollister said that most of them are long standing traditions that come from years past, but that student leaders still have some creative input. Hollister said that some of the free throw activities were created by this year’s group of student leaders.
“We have a say in some new chants. … In our preseason meeting we talked about new chants, new stuff to do,” said Hollister. “Some of them got through with the free throw distractions, but just like the normal chants they go way back.”
Carlson noted that tradition plays a big role in the Izzone of today. Many of the chants are “not ours, it’s past Izzone leaders, really, and we’re just keeping with it,” she said. “The stuff with the newspapers, that’s been going on since the very very beginning, like in the 90’s.”
Fans in the Izzone pretend to be reading newspapers during the opposing team’s introduction. After the announcement of each player’s name, the whole section lets out a cry of “who cares? You suck!” Afterwards the newspapers are crumpled up and thrown in the air. Carlson noted that newspapers are now printed specially for each game, reading “BEAT” and the name of the opponent. In years past, they were actual newspapers that students brought into the stadium.
One big responsibility for Izzone student leaders is managing the student section’s social media accounts, both on game days and beyond. With over 41 thousand followers on Twitter and 16 thousand on Instagram, the Izzone social media accounts frequently post pictures of student section fans during games.
“Usually we take videos and photos of Izzone members doing something,” said Carlson. “[We’re] just kind of showing what the Izzone does.”
Both Carlson and Hollister cited their social media responsibilities as going hand-in-hand with their respective majors as well as being one of their favorite things about being a student leader.
“When we got the opportunity to run the social media, I feel like that inspired me to keep doing what I’m doing with the creative advertising,” said Hollister, a creative advertising major. “I just like it because it’s what I’ve been trying to learn … in the past four, five years.”
Carlson, a journalism major, said that “this whole social media thing is cool. It definitely helps me build expertise and experience. … I feel like it helps me build up my skills.”
Both agreed that being in charge of social media is a significant responsibility, but it’s one they’re happy to take on.
“The fact that they let us do it with the amount of followers [that the accounts have] - the Izzone is looked at by pretty much everybody if you’re at Michigan State,” said Hollister. “I think the pressure is absolutely a privilege for us.”
Carlson added, “it was definitely scary at first, I didn’t know what to do, but now we’re good at it.”
In addition to administrative duties, student leaders also have the responsibility of making sure that fans maintain sportsmanship, both with the other team and amongst themselves.
“I try not to participate in some of the chants [that the] rest of the student section starts,” said Carlson. During Michigan State’s game against Wisconsin on Dec. 5, some students made chants directed at the referees.
“That was just not great,” she said. “I wasn’t encouraging that. … I’ve called out people a couple times when they said something.”
Hollister said that game “is a pretty good example” of a student section engaging in unsportsmanlike behavior, calling it a “hostile” environment. He believes that much of it was influenced by MSU’s poor performance on the court, but that it’s not representative of the Izzone on a regular basis.
“It was just a tough game all around, but it’s not like that every time,” he said. “There’s people that say stuff that probably shouldn’t be said. … It’s also our job to tell them to tone it down, which [on that day] we did.”
“I didn’t like it at all,” Hollister said.
Carlson agreed, “I didn’t like it at all either. It wasn’t really fun for me. I haven’t really experienced something like that yet.”
They both stressed, however, that the Izzone is a much more positive place for the majority of games.
“All the other times it’s great. Everybody is with everyone,” said Hollister. “Every other night, we’re all one.”
That kind of atmosphere is part of what makes the Izzone great, according to Carlson and Hollister. During their time as Izzone student leaders, with Carlson in her second year and Hollister in his third, they said that the Izzone has created some great memories.
“The game against Tennessee [this year] was a lot of fun,” said Carlson. “The energy in there was crazy, … that was so loud.
Hollister’s personal favorite game that he led came against Purdue in February 2022. “That is where I was put on the television eating paper, and then we ended up winning in the final seconds.”
Overall, what Carlson and Hollister are most looking forward to is to continue to enjoy the experience of being a student leader as well as a fan of MSU basketball.
“I’m just excited to watch more basketball and be more excited with the Izzone,” said Carlson.