I emailed Mark Schlissel

Submitted by uniqenam on September 30th, 2014 at 10:01 AM

It made me feel better, if nothing else. Even though my identity isn't too hard to find on this site, I redacted some stuff because it makes me feel better.


CC: Board of Regents


Mr. Schlissel,


I would like to begin this letter by describing my connection(s) to the University of Michigan. In XXXX, I matriculated into LSA as a member of the Honors College; I graduated with distinction and high honors in XXXX, and subsequently completed an MSE degree in the College of Engineering in XXXX. Aside from my personal enrollment in the University, I have numerous family ties to U of M: my father (an alumnus of blah), my mother (an alumna of blah blah blah), my brother (an alumnus of the college of blah), my  wife (an alumna blah). I have been passionate about the University in no small part because of the success of the football program, learning the fight song before I knew the national anthem, cheering for the maize and blue on autumn days before I knew how to read a scoreboard, and understanding the excellence that the University prides itself in (in all manners) long before I understood the sterling academic and professional reputation of the University and its graduates. I would be surprised if my personal experience in this manner is singular.


You are no doubt aware that the University of Michigan football program has not performed well of late. Indeed, any number of national sports pundits has been quick to note this. This, in itself, reflects curiously on a University that prides itself in being “the Leaders and Best” in all things. However, competitive sport must have winners and losers and seasons of feast and famine; I do not take professional issue with the performance of the football program, but merely experience the pain of a passionate observer and fanatic, and hope that Michigan football will return to its prominence as a national powerhouse program.


I do, however, find recent events deplorable in which the athletic department has demonstrated a lack of loyalty to fans, an interest in profit margins over fan experience, endangerment of its student athletes, and a general black eye to the University and danger to the professional value of my Michigan education. For instance, my father (every bit as rabid a fan as I) was recently unwilling and unable to purchase season tickets to Michigan football games, due to their continuously increasing costs (no small feat, to out-price a dentist). This price gouging extends to the students, who are yearly asked to pony up more cash for tickets to see the likes of Appalachian State, Miami of Ohio, and University of Massachusetts play in the Big House. As an activity integral to the connection of alumni, students, and prospective students/employees with the University, this unholy pursuit of profit (from a non-profit institution) is beginning to act quite counter to its purpose, and is becoming noted by the media at large. Further, even when students purchase season tickets months ahead of schedule, the University has been recently dumping unsold tickets (to the tune of a ticket for a Big Ten football game with a bottle of Coke) while students and alumni remain holding unfairly expensive tickets.


Even this would be bearable, were the athletic department acting as a general boon to publicity for the University. However, recent events demonstrate this to be untrue. For instance, last year the athletic department paid for a plane to skywrite “GO BLUE” over Spartan Stadium. I don’t need to spell out for you in further detail what a sophomoric act this was. Estimates of the cost (which were never released) were on the order of $3000, a great use of the aforementioned inflated ticket proceeds. Last year, the athletic department also decided it would be a fabulous idea to put a giant Kraft macaroni noodle outside, in order to increase marketing cash flow; you can Google the results to see the public outcry over the ridiculous corporatization of one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world. Most egregiously, the football program has recently been in national news over its handling of the safety and health of its student athletes. I need not expand in further detail on this, as you could simply turn on your television to learn more.


What is truly impressive, however, is the ability of the athletic department to obscure, obfuscate, and deny culpability in the above, always diffusing blame and rejecting alleged wrongdoing:


On ticket prices: "We raised the ticket prices, but we wanted to make sure the ticket price increase was not at all perceived to be an opportunity for us to make more money off of the students.” – David Brandon (athletic director), as Michigan students pay among the most in the country to watch football; how else are price increases to be perceived?


On the “two Cokes, two tickets” promo:"Due to a miscommunication in the approval process, this promotion should not have run as is.” – Michigan spokesman… which raises the question, what exactly was the promotion going to be?


On the noodle: "This is the classic deal: somebody goes by and takes a picture of it and puts it on the Internet, and then they think this is the new hood ornament for Michigan Stadium." – Dave Brandon. A continual thread throughout these statements, that every issue raised is a matter of perception on the part of the fans/alumni/media.


On the skywriting over East Lansing:"There were no locations targeted." – Dave Ablauf (spokesman for AD), in stark contrast to the stated target of East Lansing by the pilot who did the skywriting.


On the endangerment of student athletes:I could copy and paste the entire press statement from David Brandon, but let me highlight the use of ambiguous, non-culpable language: “confusing”, “lack of communication”, “circumstance that was not in the best interest of our student-athletes”, “unique and complex situation” (despite the fact this happens every game-day Saturday), training staff “did not see the hit” (despite everyone else in the stadium immediately understanding what was happening), et cetera.


This is not the Michigan that I grew up with, nor is it the Michigan that I wish to be associated with. Mistakes happen, of that we can be sure; the measure of a man, program, and institution is how we deal with mistakes. It is not difficult (unless, apparently, you’re a member of the athletic department) to come forward and admit wrongdoing instead of deflecting and parrying. Any one of these events and subsequent evasions may be forgivable; in sum, they overwhelmingly demonstrate casual disregard for the truth, disrespect for the intelligence of fans and alumni of the University of Michigan, disinterest in the safety of students, and a deaf ear to the complaints and desires of those associated with Michigan. This athletic department and administration is rapidly destroying the goodwill and esteem of one of the proudest, most revered universities in the world. Never have I been embarrassed to declare my alma mater in a professional setting, as I am today. A losing football program is acceptable, when run with dignity and grace. An athletic department that tarnishes the value of my professional association with the University of Michigan is not.


I urge you to take whatever actions you deem necessary to reverse this course.





[Current professional credentials]



September 30th, 2014 at 10:35 AM ^

I sent the president a similar letter yesterday but yours is much more elequent. I think the only thing they will really listen to is $.  I mentioned that I would not be giving the university another nickel unitl Brandon and Hoke were gone. 



September 30th, 2014 at 10:40 AM ^

but I am guessing there won't be and if there is it would be something generic.  Here's hoping that the pot is stirred enough to get an honest explanation in return.


September 30th, 2014 at 10:53 AM ^

I'm hopeful that a new University President doesn't immediately succomb to the power of the almighty dollar. He has a one year window to make things happen based on "gut feelings" and to move the University forward to match any vision he has for the place. If he doesn't act now, then he'll become too entrenched in the Michigan culture and will make decisions based purely on politics rather than logic. New presidents, CEOs, or leaders of organizations are generally afforded some autonomy at the beginning of their tenure and I hope he makes the right choices related to football and the athletic department before too many "important" people have his ear. He would make a major statement if he let Brandon and Hoke go immediately. It'd be popular with the masses, and if he has our support, then it'd be tougher for wealthy alums to push him around later on down the road.


September 30th, 2014 at 10:58 AM ^

Well written...hopefully they will read your comments.

Add the debacle about seat cushions and the policy on bottled water to the list of items that Brandon has initiated.


September 30th, 2014 at 5:31 PM ^

At times when a question arises, the questioner may decide not to ask it because they don't want to be exposed as somehow less of a true fan. I admit my sports knowledge in the case of the "seat cushion" issue is perhaps lacking in depth, and could be answered by a true fan that no doubt knows more than I about sport, and no doubt life in general. I've read a few references to the seat cushions and just wondering what it's about...


September 30th, 2014 at 11:10 AM ^

My email to Brandon (cc Schlissel and the Regents) included a similar concept:

I'm not quite sure with whom your vision of Michigan football is having such great success that you're continuing on with your strategy, but I've yet to meet them. You were made the custodian of one of the few unique and authentic experiences left in the world, but you're tearing it down to leave something generic and replaceable in its stead. Please, just stop.

Decatur Jack

September 30th, 2014 at 12:20 PM ^

As someone who works in marketing and handles emails for a CEO, "Please, just stop" is language that frequently gets dismissed. I doubt if Brandon will actually ever see this.

Try something like this instead: "I have thus decided to forgo any further purchases of Michigan football memorabilia or my renewal of season tickets."

That's an attention grabber.


September 30th, 2014 at 1:44 PM ^

Oh, that was in there as well. I didn't want to reprint the whole thing.

(And honestly, while the letter was "to" Brandon, the intended audience was the President and Regents as I think telling Dave Brandon to stop going after the whizbangiest BRANDMARKETING!!! thing is like telling a raccoon to stop knocking over garbage cans. It's just his nature.)

I've got 20 years in marketing/PR and my issue with Brandon isn't that he's trying to get more money out of the program, it's that he's so earthshatteringly BAD at it. He's alienating every single stakeholder segment other than corporate sponsors and Stephen Ross, and the corporate sponsors are out the door next once the fans stop showing up and the TV and radio ratings crater.

He's lost my 70 year-old family friend with whom I've been going to games for 30 years. He's lost 43 year-old me. He's lost the students who are the next generation, and he's not attracting my 10 year-old son who's the generation beyond that. As I said, with whom is the strategy working?


September 30th, 2014 at 11:10 AM ^

A losing football program is not acceptable for an athletic department that brings in $150 million in revenue each year. I get that the ethical issues have to be addressed first, but wins and losses are nearly as important.

As a graduate of EMU I can attest to the fact of how damaging a bad football team can be to a school's image. Rather being perceived for what it is--a solid regional school--EMU is seen as a woebegone university worthy only of contempt. Much of this can be traced to the weekly humiliations on the gridiron. Rightly or wrongly many in our society base much of their perception of institutions on  shallow measurements such as this.

UM has  an illustrious reputation in academics and athletics.It has gotten there by striving to be the leaders and best. What we currently are seeing from the head football coach and athletic director is not indicative of how the truly  "Leaders and Best" conduct themselves and their business.


September 30th, 2014 at 12:44 PM ^

apologies, I posted this already on another thread, but belongs here


I would have said it is impossible to alienate every constituency of the university, but Mr. Brandon has done so.
Let me relate two anecdotes from before the last game.
I have not requested permission to use names, so will not.
Friday I was privileged to attend the memorial for James Schneider, 31 year loyal employee of the athletic dept.
In spite of family issues which are public knowledge, Coach Carr fulfilled his commitment to the Schneider family, and apologized for having to leave early for Chad's birthday party.
I thanked the person I assumed, correctly, who was responsible for securing the Junge Center for the memorial.
I was advised that Mr. Brandon was told that he could not charge people for this event.
Mr. Brandon chose not to attend himself, with which decision I concur.
Saturday morning, at the tailgate always hosted by a large contributor, he informed me that an alum athlete, who had contributed 7 figures to endow scholarships for each of two separate sports programs, had requested 8 tickets for the game.
And was SOLD two separate sets of four.
He should just have purchased 8 Coke products.
Post game, Mr. Brandon throws the head football coach under the bus, by neither speaking to him nor having him informed of the results of his investigation.
The list goes on.
The ineluctable conclusion is that Mr. Brandon is not capable of competently leading the athletic department of my alma mater.
Please do all that you can to see him relieved of his duties ASAP.

1989 UM GRAD

September 30th, 2014 at 4:02 PM ^

...Schlissel and Brandon. 

If every MGoBlogger tweeted the powers that be, it would make a big impression...along with everything else that's being done.

Great letter to Schlissel, by the way.


October 1st, 2014 at 2:54 PM ^

I'm working on a letter of my own to the Schlissel and the regents.  If you don't mind, I'll probably use portions of yours as you very eloquently discuss some of the problems.