Mike Spath points out that doing an interview for the official site is a pretty good indicator he'll be back.
For those of you who regularly come here looking for an unhinged diatribe against the powers that be, let me first apologize and recommend a different column. Thankfully, there isn’t really any of that here this week (ok maybe a sentence or two). I’ll preface by saying that I was away at an engineering convention last weekend and missed the second half of the Rutgers game, so perhaps my program ire/ennui wasn’t quite to the levels that many others here had attained. Either way, I found Saturday to be a welcome relief, not only that we won, but also from a general fan experience perspective. And this is compared to last year in particular, where the night game atmosphere mixed with general admission to produce one of the worst fan experiences I’ve had in the Big House (admittedly only until the opening kickoff).
Pregame: From the Football Student Advisory Council
The football student advisory council (or football SAC as some of their members call it) is a new initiative this year to get more student fan input on the program, the games, the department, etc. I have a few friends who are serving on it and so occasionally have the luxury of getting a feel for things yet to come (and occasionally can put that into print). After this week’s meeting, one of them commented that
“Anything and everything is on the table to fix this.”
“Where this means everything,” I replied.
That includes lower student ticket prices, allowing bringing water into the stadium, etc. So despite the chaos of the last few weeks, it seems that the athletic department is listening. Whether, and how much, they’ll act on it obviously remains to be seen, but it seems reasonable to be at least guardedly optimistic. Hunter Lochmann, the AD’s Chief Marketing Officer observed that he has never seen Brandon like this—that he’s hurt, and that he wants to fix things. Will he be able to? I don’t know. But if *if* he does change course, if he does
- back away from the relentless commercialization of the football experience,
- lower ticket prices,
- fix the “little things” like allowing people to bring water bottles in,
- work to change the culture from a client-provider model to a more family/community model,
- back off from allegedly micromanaging aspects of the football program,
- stop screwing around with seating policies, gimmicks, and promotions,
- apologize for the way concussion-gate was handled and commit to being more forthcoming, and less legalese-y in the future, and in short
- work to bring back the fan experience that made the Big House what it was for decades;
then I won’t be crushed if he stays. Do I think he’ll be able to, or even willing? Not yet. But I’m not out for blood, I’m not a mean, vindictive blogger. I’m just a flawed, frustrated human being—as, I imagine, is Dave Brandon. And I’m not above forgiving someone who screwed up majorly, as long as they acknowledge the shortcoming and work to correct it moving forward. I can’t, and won’t, take my name off the petition; but for me this is about the issues, not the person. And if the issues get fixed, then the person can stay.
I was explaining the above thought process to a friend as we walked to the MGoTailgate, which was a great tailgate experience and well worth the encouraged donation. He asked if I thought that allowing the purchase of beer in the stadium (as had been done for the Winter Classic and soccer match) would go over well with the students. My honest answer was (and remains) “no”. In the absence of fixing the real issues, I think that students would (possibly rightly) view it as pandering, and many would balk at the implication that students will be happy as long as they have enough to drink, actually issues be damned. This line of thinking was reasonably confirmed when I got to the stadium, which brings us to
The Stadium: Night Game Edition
Walking in the first thing I observed was that the event staff seemed to have a different air about them. Rather than getting hassled about the cowbell (which, mea culpa mea culpa, is likely still in the stadium) they seemed to be encouraging it. Further, they seemed genuinely interested in the signed photo I had with me because I had no place to put it prior to the game starting, and at least one was aware of the tailgate and expressed his desire to have been there.
The next thing was easily the most shocking. They were giving out free water bottles to students entering the stadium. Yes. Free. So maybe I can start crossing items off that list above already. Here’s hoping. Many students, however, were less enthused than I. Once in the student section, the pre-game featured (by my count) one “Fire Brandon” cheer and many students criticizing Brandon’s attempts to “buy them off” with “two dollar water” after paying as much as they did for season tickets. So yes, I think that many small steps may be viewed as pandering at least initially. That doesn’t mean that the department should give up on these small steps. There’s just a lot of damage to heal, which will take some time and a continued effort.
I’m reminded of the department’s response to the chaos of the night game last year: they handed out seat tickets when you checked into the stadium so that there wouldn’t be a mad rush to the seats. The problem: they did this for the Akron game, saw it wasn’t necessary (for the Akron game) and abandoned it going forward (where it may have been beneficial). I’m worried that we may repeat that with things like the water, which in isolation was very much appreciated. By itself or one-time-only, however, it won’t do much to fix all the damage that has been done.
Apart from that, the only thing worth mentioning was the occasional drunk student trying to get a “Fire Brandon” cheer started when we had the opportunity to force a safety (no, not that safety), who claimed that his 5 years here (everyone together now “get off my lawn”) made him the expert on the damage Brandon has done. But yeah, Zazu is right—there is one in every family, including the Michigan family. And there’s not a whole lot to be done except perhaps…
[Author’s Note: No, I’m not actually encouraging that. MGoBlog isn’t encouraging that. Nobody is encouraging that.]
Overall, from a fan experience standpoint, this was one of the more enjoyable games I’ve had here (though I have to admit, Norfleet was a huge part of that). Are the underlying problems gone? No. But it’s still a welcome relief to know that I can still go and support the players without enduring something that makes me wonder if it’s worth it. And at this point, that’s really all I ask.
[EDIT:4pm 13 Oct.] In my haste to get this out I overlooked one great occurence.
Before kickoff we were doing our usual "get the attention of any borderline famous person that happened to walk by" routine. One of these people was Regent Bernstein, who not only acknowledged our yelling at him but stopped to talk to us and was incredibly personable. After a bit of chatting we jokingly said that he should come join us in the student section. He replied "There's plenty of room" so quickly that we didn't immediately get the insinuation that had been made, but yes I do believe that the Regents (or at least Regent Bernstein) get it.
Read and share if desired.
And as always, GO BLUE!
Title says it all, follow the link.
For the lazy- Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork started a kickstarter type campaign to raise funds equivalent to costs for new goalposts and SEC fines. Big donations earned you a piece of the goalpost. He also let the students who took one of the goalposts home off the hook as long as they didn't try and sell it. He raised all of the $75,000 in 3 hours.
Facing a boycott of kickoff in protest of Dave Brandon's continued employment, Dave Brandon's Athletic Department puts out an official photo using a quote from Dennis Norfleet to try to stop the boycott. The caption on the Michigan Football Facebook page: "Fleet".
If you are like me in thinking that it is inappropriate for Dave Brandon to use student-athletes in orchestrated PR ploys intended to save his own job, you'll join me in thinking this is inappropriate, too. Boo, Dave. Boo.
Mrs. Jon06: "Is that official?"
Mrs. Jon06: "...He should be fired."
ETA: Mr. Yost down below tries to convince me that this is not a new social media strategy. I asked him to provide an example from the Michigan Football Facebook page of any student athlete quote used in a 2014 ad. I mentioned that coaches' quotes had been used. His responses: basketball players from Twitter (not what I asked for), coaches (not what I asked for), and then a Funchess quote that never appeared on the Facebook page (not what I asked for), which (last time I checked) he is pretending was posted there. If anybody knows where he got that Funchess Chobani image, that'd be great to know. [Image was from Twitter. Again irrelevant. Again obfuscation from Mr. Yost who wants you to forget what we were discussing.] In any case I am just writing this here to register that Brandon supporters appear to be engaged in an active misinformation campaign here. Be careful out there, folks.
ETA2: To be fair, I should add here that Mr. Yost seems to think I'm lying by having moved the goalposts on him. I disagree insofar as social media strategies are a lot more specific than he seems to think, but you can see what you think if you read through the stuff below. The Funchess image he keeps reposting is from Twitter, per the above, unlike the FB-sourced image embedded in this here OP. FWIW, I am now inclined to think MGrowOld is right in the "Why the Surge" thread when it comes to at least part of the increased pressure to attend, but I still strongly dislike the AD using SA quotes in official materials in any way that even has the appearance of being an attempt to move the needle on a boycott aimed at DB.
What if Dave Brandon managed to land one of the Harbaughs at the end of the year? Would you still want him fired? Is this less likely to happen than us somehow winning out or only dropping one more game this season?
For the record, I don't think this happens, and I don't really care who the athletic director is because I have zero chance of ever influencing that decision.
This is not an apology of Dave Brandon's actions as AD. Raising ticket prices with this 2014 schedule was a bad idea and I doubt he plans on keeping them the same price next year with both MSU and OSU coming to Michigan Stadium. Changing the student seating policy from assigned seating to general admission to super fan assigned seating over the last three years was a bad idea. Brandon should have made the change to general admission and stuck with it IMO. Bad ideas have consequences in the corporate world so they should in Athletics as well.
Brandon has to realize the terrible optics of the situation when you say you are going to "improve communication on the sideline between the coaching staff and medical staff" and your head coach refuses to utilize a coaching tool used universally at all levels of football for the past 30 years.
We hear about how Brandon sits in on film review sessions and gets a copy of game plans from coaches. To me these are signs of an obessive AD who is micromanaging those he chose to work beneath him.
If Dave Brandon has so much control over Hoke and the football program, how come he can't get Hoke to wear a headset?