Defending Dave Brandon

Submitted by cypress on December 20th, 2012 at 2:48 PM

Downvotes be damned, here it comes anyway. Knowing full well what the opinion of this board is, and also being aware of how most fall at the feet of Brian Cook, I understand my position will likely be unpopular. Having said that, I feel very fortunate to have one of the best AD's in college sports at Michigan.

Dave Brandon is an AD who understands that his role is to make the university money, and he is one of the few who is honest enough to admit this. The results are in, and he is good at his job. Michigan is more profitable than ever, and I believe we can all see that the major revenue sports are in good hands, moving in a positive direction.

Speical I love them? No. However, I also understand that society is evolving, and kids today DO like special jerseys. What we may see as an insult to tradition, a younger generation (and especially the players) see it as something new and exciting. The point is, I will live with these type of things if it makes the university stronger as a whole, and Michigan continues to be one of the best and most profitable sports programs in the country. Brandon may not care what all the fans think, but he cares about Michigan, and I think Michigan is getting to the point where it will be stronger than ever before, due in part to his efforts.

I see all the Brandon snark on here and I realize it's trendy on this board to toe the line of grumbling and angst towards him, but I fall in the other category of being thankful we have an athletic director who is committed to making us stronger. Am I alone?



December 20th, 2012 at 5:40 PM ^

Well said, sir.  At what point is the amount of money grossed, fruitless?  For a businessman, probably never.  But for a university, an institution, serving the people?  At some point exploiting the masses must hit a point where there's nothing left improve, and then what?  The money goes elsewhere and it becomes a real exploitation.  I too feel like the college sports industry takes advantage of the masses and more importantly, like SRK states, takes advantage of me.


December 20th, 2012 at 4:20 PM ^

It's a bit amazing that someone has to "defend" Dave Brandon to anyone.  By pretty much any reasonable standard of evaluation, he has been fantastic.  He has hired great individuals (e.g. Brady Hoke), taken on bold renovations, increased revenue for the administration, and has generally been seen internally as being very adamant about focusing on academics.

The only reason this ridiculous thread even exists is because Brian doesn't seem to grasp the very simple fact that the AD is a business.  Do we all love tradition? Sure.  But we also love competing with the best teams, and being able to drive enough profit to invest in other sports, cool infrastructure projects, and generally driving P&L improvements.  I know it's tough for some of you to realize that it's not all about "Michigan Man huzzah", but that's the reality.  He's done a pretty damn great job of balancing revenue and tradition, and has also seemed to listen when fans complain (e.g. marching band to Bama).

Most of the complaints that have been railed against DB on this blog are pretty asinine.  Unfortunately, Brian is usually so spot-on and reasonable that people just tend to blindly latch onto anything he says.  This is one instance where he is just obviously wrong.


December 20th, 2012 at 4:26 PM ^

"He's done a pretty damn great job of balancing revenue and tradition, and has also seemed to listen when fans complain (e.g. marching band to Bama)."

Exactly how has he done a good job of BALANCING revenue and tradition?  It appears to me, that at every single impasse when forced to decide between potentially increased revenue or protecting tradition, Dave Brandon has chosen the former.  In regards to the band to Dallas idea, I believe his hand was forced by a big donor or the donor paid for it himself. 

Dave Brandon would burn the Little Brown Jug if he was allowed to fill it with gold first.



December 20th, 2012 at 4:39 PM ^

So, I do believe you need to give credit where credit is due. Some areas where DB has done a good job:

  • Hiring Brady Hoke as Football Coach.
  • Providing the funding for Hoke to compete and pay for Assistant Coaches.
  • Unified with the coaching staffs (i.e., no longer the in-fighting and backbiting happening when RR was at UM.)
  • Following through with building upgrades begun under Bill Martin.
  • Going beyond Bill Martin with a master plan for the entire athletic campus.

I believe that DB needs to be given credit for at least the above items.

 There are several minor issues that bug a lot of people, but which while annoying, aren't critical to me.

  • Dayglo / varied uniforms. While I like the traditional uniform, I realize that styles and fabrics change.
  • Pop Evil "In the Big House" and other Michigan themed music. Music is too much a matter of personal taste, and you'll never make everyone happy. I can't get too exercised about this.
  • Weddings in the Big House. Seems really tacky to me, but whatever. I guess, to a significant subset of the population, Michigan Stadium functions as their major house of worship and focus in life. I suppose it is emblamatic of them and of the culture for some to want to get married in the High Temple of Michigan Sports. But again, I can't fault DB for allowing this to happen.

My only major issue with DB is the sense that he is gouging fans in order to maximize profitability (see post above.) I think it is great for Michigan's athletic departments to operate in the black, and even to have a small surplus. But I fear that DB and the athletic programs have gone far, far beyond just being in the black.


December 20th, 2012 at 4:41 PM ^

Dave Brandon is an AD who understands that his role is to make the university money, and he is one of the few who is honest enough to admit this.


Dave Brandon's job, as the athletic director, is to see to it that Michigan is set up to win as many games as possible in as many sports as possible.


Not one trophy exists for having the most profitable athletic department.  Not one award is handed out for the biggest bottom line on the balance sheet.  We do not measure ourselves against Ohio State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, or any other school in the country by the number next to the dollar signs.

You have lost sight of the goal.  You think the goal is making money.  Ask yourself WHY this money is necessary.  We need money because success costs money.  Not because money is success.  When you are set up to be successful, why do you need more money?

Tell me what prize, what award, what trophy, what prestige, what bragging rights come from having more money and I will rescind my downvote.

Fort Wayne Blue

December 20th, 2012 at 4:51 PM ^

but, having more money, and building newer buildings are universally understood to help athletic departments be full of teams (both revenue and olympic) competiting for championships. 

If there isn't any cash, then a school ends up like Maryland....broke, begging from the state for the money to pay for your head coach, AND shutting down 7 sports teams.


December 20th, 2012 at 5:25 PM ^

If there isn't any if a well-managed Michigan athletic department is ever in danger of running out of cash, uniformz or not.  This is not a choice between no cash and enough cash.  This is a choice between more than enough cash and way more than enough cash.  After you've built sparkling new facilities everywhere (which we're doing) and hired the best coaches you can find and paid them all very well (which we've done), what is left to do?


December 20th, 2012 at 10:09 PM ^

By the time you pay off the loans they need to be modernized or upgraded. Coaches salaries go up and up. Scholarship costs go up at a ridiculous rate. You're not doing the bare minimum of what's adequate. You're competing with Texas, Stanford, Notre Dame, Oregon who are spending to not just have good, but the best.

And it's kinda disturbing that you think his job isn't about money, but winning; with the education of student athletes no where in there. Priorities seem to be off everywhere.


December 20th, 2012 at 5:09 PM ^

...that the OP is WRONG about what DAB's job is. Just don't project that wrongness onto what DAB's perception of his job is. While it's true that he has worked hard to increase the athletic department's revenue stream (and been mighty successful at it to boot), 1000SSS's aim is not to be "the most profitable atheltic department". In fact, these monies are not being squirreled away or passed along to shareholders via stock dividends. Rather, they are being poured back into the athletic department - its teams, its campus and facilities, and back to the university in the form of payments to the scholarship fund above and beyond the total cost of student athelete tuition, fees, room and board (because they pay out of state tuition on all athletes regardless of residency).

To wit, listen to the man himself. As I highlighted in this thread from 2010:

"We create all of our revenues that we use to support ourselves, we fund all of our capital projects, we cover our own costs," he said. "Our job is to bring in more revenue than we have costs, and then take what's left over and reinvest it in facilities and equipment and things we need to be successful."

The goal is to increase revenues so that Michigan athletics can continually be improved as measured by team performance and fan experience. As I noted before, some AD decisions that relate specifically to fan experience can be debated (uniformz, rawk music, etc), but the overall beneficial effect of the ongoing modernization of the athletic campus and its facilities cannot be denied.


December 20th, 2012 at 11:18 PM ^

eventually drop.... yes.  And that was my point.  When the notes are paid off, will ticket prices drop?

The stadium renovations cost $226 million.  Crisler renovations and player development center - $79 million.  Yost improvements will cost $14 million. 

Coaching salaries?  If salaries are increasing at the same rate as those notes are being paid off, then we better be swimming in championships.........



December 21st, 2012 at 9:46 AM ^ stage of stadium expansion/renovation. Remember all of the talk about adding seating in the south end zone bringing capacity in the vicinity of 120K? Remember how almost everyone was jazzed about that because we all like Michigan Stadium's Big House status and think it would be cool to blow all those 100K stadia out of the water?

My expectation is that the AD will continue to plow its excess revenues into physical plant improvements across South Campus even after the current modernization effort plays itself out. After they're done with those projects, it will be time to examine the need and plan for the next round.


December 20th, 2012 at 4:43 PM ^

Our coaches and players perform and practice with integrity.  Hoke was the perfect hire - he believes and upholds Michigan tradition and has had more success than i could have hoped for in his first two years - with a brighter future.  Beilein does the same and has brought our Basketball program to its prime.

Having alternate jerseys, hashtags on the 25 yard line, night games etc. doesn't change anything about the tradition of Michigan football and the level of respect that comes with that.  It's important that Michigan blends both the traditional and modern sports landscape.  Brandon is doing that.


December 20th, 2012 at 4:50 PM ^

To set the record straight, it is my understanding that the plans to expand and perfect facilities were long in discussion before Brandon arrived in Ann Arbor.  Bill Martin did all the work on the luxury boxes and I suspect a lot of the prep work for Crisler and the other improvements.  In addition, Brandon is reaping the rewards of the financial turnaround that Martin spearheaded during his tenure.  Say what you will about Martin's inability to hire a coach (all of which is probably true), but people cannot refute the fact that he deserves the credit for the finances.

So what has Brandon done that we should applaud graciously?  Hire Hoke and Mattison et al. obviously.  And that in and of itself MAY be all that he needs to have done to be remembered as a successful AD.  With that finished, he seems to be reverting back to his corporate CEO ways in seeking to generate MOAR revenue.  I'm not sure that's all that bad, but it is definitely a little frightening when he starts treading on traditional things like uniforms, advertising, etc.  As someone mentioned above, "tradition" means something different to everyone, especially different generations.  But I think we can agree that the changes to the uniforms have deviated from previous tradition and that bothers me.

All that said, does he appear to be a good AD thus far.  Sure!  But that doesn't mean we can't complain.  I mean, if we can't complain, what do we have???



December 20th, 2012 at 5:40 PM ^

Just to confirm, you are correct about the improvements to Crisler being laid out at the end of Martin's tenure. As I recall, the plans submitted by TMP Architecture (the design  firm) were approved and finalized at the final Regents meeting under Bill Martin's watch. 

I also agree that the hiring decisions under Dave Brandon have been excellent, and the department has continued and even strengthened its surpluses year-to-year. Financially, the picture is rosy, and I credit Brandon for strengthening a balance sheet that was already getting better and paying for quality talent in the department. He's even expanded on the plans of the last decade and gotten the groundwork laid to turn South Campus into a world-class collection of facilities that will hopefully keep us competitive for a long while. 

From a business standpoint, the athletic department is in capable hands. The department has been able to operate as a successful entity unto itself, and within that context, Brandon does very well  for his employer - the University Of Michigan.

 I don't agree with every initiative, decision, or indeed, uniform, but the department is definitely well-run. To expand on that, my own specific criticism - there are things that I see that I feel endanger the brand equity of our teams, and by extension, the school if they are continued over the course of years. There are things about the Michigan brand that I feel are a draw by themselves and don't necessarily need a makeover. 



December 21st, 2012 at 9:09 AM ^

Say what you will about Martin's inability to hire a coach (all of which is probably true), but people cannot refute the fact that he deserves the credit for the finances.

To be fair, Bill Martin hired John Beilein too, and I don't think anyone would complain about that hire. Did he botch the football hire? Absolutely. But Bill Martin took this athletic department from a deficit to one of the most profitable in college sports and laid the infrastructure for long-term athletic success. 50 years from now, when Michigan is still one of the pre-eminent athletic programs in the country, we will have Bill Martin to thank for it.

Sadly, I think he'll always be regarded in a poor light because of the Rich Rodriguez fiasco, and he deserves criticism for how that all played out, but it shouldn't overshadow all the good he did in his time here.


December 21st, 2012 at 4:27 PM ^

The process and management of it was a mess, and his follow up and support was shoddy, but on face value it was a good hire. But other than Beilein, how many of his OTHER hires worked out? Beilein wasn't his first rodeo there...he had the Amaker mess first.  Cheryl Burnett. Borseth seemed ok, but isn't around any more. Rich Maloney's gone. Beilein seemed more the exception than the rule.


December 20th, 2012 at 4:52 PM ^

I think Dave Brandon is the best thing to happen to Michigan athletics in a long time. The proof is in the pudding. Currently in first place in the sears cup and the 2nd most valuable football program in the nation. Michigan was essentially a sleeping giant. Dave Brandon will market Michigan athletics better than its ever been before. He just needs to sign up with Nike and ditch Adidas.


December 20th, 2012 at 5:52 PM ^

That notion right there is what sucks a** about this whole thing.  The best thing to happen to Michigan ATHLETICS in a long time is.....the  former CEO of  turrible pizza?  No, not a team winning a championship in "blank" sport, not a team making an NCAA torunament and succeeding in their own way, not a "blank" team rising from a bottom-feeder to a contender on the field/floor/ice, not the COUNTLESS athletes to have set foot in the numerous facilities the University has to offer (regardless of who built them), not a BCS Bowl after the worst three-year-stretch the football team has endured, not Denard F**king Robinson....but the marketeer/businessman Dave Brandon? Come. On.


December 20th, 2012 at 8:03 PM ^

I see that point and agree that it's nice to have money.  Money can be good and helpful, this isn't the "dispute" I don't think.  Though, as you raise the point money helps "bring things to campus that helps teams win NC's", at what point is enough, enough?  Others have argued, at what point is the money meaningless; facilities can only improve so far, then what?  We can't buy the recruits here at Michigan so at what point is the money overrated?  I and others think it's very close or has we've even passed that point.  I'm glad for some of Brandon's business mind but a lot of it is ridiculous in the world of college sports.

So, my point above was that we watch these sports for the joy of watching these young men and women compete and to cheer on our alma maters, schools of interest, etc.  We're not cheering on the football team to do well so the AD can make money.  For someone to say the best thing to happen to a college AD is the hiring of it's chairperson is absured.  For a business that's fine and makes sense; not for college sports, though.  I hope I'm not getting to finicky in saying the young men and women and the successes and failures on the playing fields are what drives and motivates us to watch and root for these teams; not dollar signs.


December 21st, 2012 at 7:13 AM ^

You know that extremely high assistant salary currently being paid to Greg Mattison and Al Borges? Brandon made that happen. People may not like Borges around here, but paying assistants top dollar is what elite programs do, and is something that is possible when the AD makes more money for the school. Granted, I'm in the school that just wants to watch football and does not give even 1/16 of a shit what the kids wear, but I love me some Dave Brandon.


December 20th, 2012 at 5:02 PM ^

Doesn't mean he's making it stronger or better.  While I could probably sell my kidney and in the short run make money that would pay my rent and buy me food, that would be a REALLY bad idea.  There is a lot more to the University of Michigan than making money.  


December 20th, 2012 at 6:38 PM ^

A sample of things that money is required to do:

  • Build, rennovate, and maintain premier facilities
  • Pay and retain good coaching staffs

Would you prefer Crisler circa 2000 and the basketball team that went along with it?  Or would you prefer today's version with a team that in no small part can be attributed to that investment, both in terms of Coach B and his assistants, the PDC, and the arena itself. 

Would you prefer Ron English or Greg Mattison?




December 20th, 2012 at 5:14 PM ^

1) to get people to pay money for pizza that tastes like cardboard?  Probably, yes.

2) to make the athletic dept (not the university) more money simply by squeezing the customers into "required donations" and huge ticket price increases?  Not really.

Wish he were a little more of a "Tradition is Good" kinda guy vis-a-vis uniforms, but we could have done worse with an AD.  The Process... bad.  The Resulting Hire... very, very good.


December 20th, 2012 at 5:26 PM ^

Money in and of itself makes nothing better or worse.  Dave Brandon is successful at making money.  I hope he does not alienate the older donors who will provide some of the endowed long-term funds for the athletic department.


Regardless of that, being profitable (just as having money in life) is only valuable in how it is used.  Building new monuments to vanity that do not advance the basic academic mission of the university are not as important as maintaining our integrity and identity as an institution.


Dave Brandon is very good at what he sets out to do. He is a very talented man.  I question what he is setting out to do.  The AD is more than a CEO, he is a representative of the University.  I didn't come to the University of Michigan for the football, I came here for the finest education I could obtain at an institution that had integrity, identity, and class.  I want our representatives to care about more than making money.


December 20th, 2012 at 5:30 PM ^

You lost me right out of the gate with:

Dave Brandon is an AD who understands that his role is to make the university money

If that's your view, I can see why you like Brandon.  I disagree completely with the role of the AD.  I think it is to achieve success as measured by: (1) on-field performance and (2) school reputation.  We play sports because it brings the community together, makes alumni proud (and more apt to donate through means other than buying yet another random new jersey), and gives Michigan great exposure.  I have made judgments about countless other schools based on the way they conduct themselves in the world of collegiate sports.  Wisconsin sports improve my opinion of Wisconsin the school.  Ditto Duke, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Georgia Tech.  I have the opposite opinion for many others--e.g. Ohio State, Miami U.  Those are both pretty good schools but it's hard for me to regard them that way because of the image they project through sports.

Would you really put money ahead of on-field success and school reputation?  Admittedly, all three can work in cooperation and reinforce one another, but money has to be third.  And there are many instances where making more money is detrimental to on-field success (e.g. giving students far-away seats) or image (see everything Brian hates).


December 20th, 2012 at 5:33 PM ^

In today's world, even leadership that you support needs to be checked. You can NEVER give someone 100% of your support because you set yourself to be taken advantage of. And whatever you give to the decision makers and power brokers will be 10 times harder to take back. I admit, in some cases this philosophy actually makes things worse (take the current state of the city of Detroit for example) but in Dave Brandon's case, I feel it works.

BTW - the alternate jerseys aren't the problem in my opinion, its the way they look. Adidas just sucks at making alternates/throwbacks. Bring back an old logo or something. I always liked the block M with the wolverine crossing the top. This guy had some good ideas for the helmet...


December 20th, 2012 at 5:37 PM ^

See the thing lost on the "old class" is most the traditions you like are your traditions. Maybe uniform changed are this generations tradition. I see nothing wrong with the kids who actually PLAY the games getting to put a stamp on their era.


December 20th, 2012 at 7:41 PM ^

I understand what it means, but traditions start some place. When I was in HS we started things that have continued on with future teams. So the kids of this era can make their traditions that future teams can continue.


December 20th, 2012 at 8:20 PM ^

But when you first do it, it isn't a tradition. The phrase "hey check out this tradition I just created" is more accurately stated as "hey, check out this thing I just did." And even then, that's fine. I'm all for new stuff. But if you replace EXISTING traditions with NEW stuff, it may or may not create a NEW tradition, but in doing so it nukes the existing tradition.

Back in the day, people landed on North American shores and said, "hey, check out this new colony we just created." And that's great. But the natives were within their rights to be all, "uh, dude...?"


December 20th, 2012 at 5:49 PM ^

So, I have argued above in a long post that the problem with DB is that he has sought to maximize profitability. What I haven't done fully is lay out why I think this is a bad idea. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Gouging of existing fan base. Think of sports fandom like a drug. Many of us became addicted when it was a cheap addiction. Now that we're addicted, the price is going way, way up. This is great for Michigan profitability. It does not, for many, breed happy and loyal fans.
  • Failure to establish new fan base. I owe this to John Bacon, in a column linked to several days ago. In the current climate, I can't see many local 13 year old kids being dropped off to go to the football game. It just is too expensive. What this means is that new fans are not being raised up and cultivated.

The problem, however, goes deeper, and is something Brian has alluded to on numerous occasions. As the financial cost of being a fan goes up, and up, and up, there is an eventual breakiing point, when the whole enterprise collapses. Economically, we have seen this happen in other sectors. To wit:  the collapse of the financial markets on Wall Street. Similar but different is the collapse of the housing market. In both cases, a "bubble" burst, causing significant pain and contraction of the industry affected.

My ultimate fear is that as loyalty of the existing fan base is significantly eroded, and establishment of a new fan base  is non-existent, we could come to a time when the whole thing falls apart.

One piece of the puzzle I don't know how to assess is what will happen with TV and cable.  If I changed my existing U-verse service to add cable, it would cost about $1,000 more per year (above the cost of my current phone and internet service.) I think that eventually, this whole idea of bundled cable TV is going to collapse, and people like me will do something more a la carte. In my market, virtually the only reason I would add cable would be for ESPN & the Big 10 Network. I don't need the other 200 channels I would get. If I were to watch say 15 Michigan basketball games, and 11 football games, the cost to me is about $40 per game. Remember, I'm a weird cable user, and can do without almost the rest of cable TV. Honestly, it isn't worth it to me to get cable just to have access to Michigan sports on TV. If I pay $10 to have a couple beers at the local bar to watch maybe 10 Michigan games a year, my cost is $100 annually. I can live with that a lot easier than $1000. If the whole cable thing collapses or changes, that will be a major, major blow to the whole Big 10. 

Again, this is another TL;DR post. I've gotta quit doing this. Let me try to summarize my main point:  the fear I have is that DB will breed resentment in the fan base by his price gouging. This gouging will eventually by part of the collapse of the whole enterprise. When the bubble bursts, the alienated fan base, with their loyalty eroded, will no longer feel compelled to go to games.


December 20th, 2012 at 10:27 PM ^

How much is too much, not because of cost, but availability. Sports is headed towards a crisis the movie industry is already facing. Why go to a movie and deal with traffic and people when I can get a better seat on my couch with a 70" HD TV, food, and a bathroom right there? What value added do you get by going to events nowadays? Movies are try 3D, HFR, IMAX...anything to get people out of their chairs. But how many of you only go to the "big" movies now, and wait for Netflixs, cable, etc. for the rest? Same with sports...are there enough UTL moments to make being there more valuable than have the best seat on TV? (Or now your computer, phone, tablet) They're going to have to come to terms with that. Empty student sections are just the start.