Thursday, October 16, 2014

Can Stephen Ross save Dave Brandon?

I listen to a lot of sports talk radio, especially 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit. Yesterday afternoon, part of the discussion on the Valenti and Foster show was about U-M athletic director Dave Brandon and the swirl of rumors surrounding today's University of Michigan Regents meeting. Among the topics the Regents are reported to be discussing are Dave Brandon and the recent Shane Morris concussion incident. The moment these topics came out, supposition about Brandon even surviving the week started to brew and everyone began debating the possibilities. There's even a rumor that the university has reached out to three potential candidates for the AD position. 

On the show, host Mike Valenti surmised that both Brandon and Hoke would, without a doubt, be gone at the end of the season if not sooner. His co-host Terry Foster was somewhat less confident. The one thing he felt might prevent the university from firing Brandon was his friendly relationship with mega-donor Stephen Ross. Foster felt that it was possible U-M President Mark Schlissel and the Regents would be compelled to maintain Brandon's employment because Ross, in his lifetime, has donated over $300M to the university and continues to be supportive of Brandon in the media.

Well, the more they talked about possibility of Stephen Ross controlling the actions of U-M with his wallet, the more irritated I (by comparison, an impoverished alumna) got. I understand very well what major donors mean to the university and its budget; it can't rely on state funding alone to maintain being the leaders or the best. I also understand that the university has to continually curry their favor to keep the cash train rolling. What I don't believe is that an institution of U-M's stature, led by very talented, intelligent, and ambitious people, will allow a single man wielding a checkbook to tell them how they're going to run their enterprise. I may be na├»ve in that, but I don't think so. 

Stephen J. Ross is a generous man and I applaud his contributions to the university. If he has a notion that it's made him the Chairman of the Board of U-M, though, he has another thing coming:
  • Ross is just one of over 540,000 living Michigan alumni. That's "one of" not "number one among". The other 539,999 or so may not all contribute as much as Ross, but the aggregate of what they do give back is significant. They also make their feelings about university matters known to the administration and to the Alumni Association. From what I can ascertain from social and traditional media, a lot of the feelings alumni share these days are very anti-Brandon. They want a winning football program. And even more so, they want the Michigan name to be respected again, not just a brand sold with a couple Cokes or written over the skies of East Lansing.
  • Ross is not the only major donor. The names of other philanthropic men and women grace buildings all over the campus and the medical center. I haven't heard a peep out of the Taubman, Munger, or Frankel families, pro or con, regarding Brandon yet. I doubt we will. No Michigan donor who cares about the university as a whole would cease giving to it just to spite the administration over the firing of an athletic director or coach. And I doubt any of the buildings Ross or the others funded will be razed in retaliation for another multimillionaire losing his job. It's just business. That's what Brandon would tell you if he cut your job at U-M.
  • One rich man can't support the entire Michigan Athletic machine on his own. If Ross was the only fan left sitting in the Big House on future football Saturdays, most other varsity sports would suffer or disappear. They get their operating funds from jam-packed games in the Big House and Crisler Center. Fans paying high prices for seats, souvenirs, meals, and drinks, along with TV revenues, are what keep Michigan Athletics going. It's the contribution of "the little people", not just the fortune of a man like Ross. Families and students with season tickets cycle to become the next generation of families and students who buy them and all the food and gear that go with them. The cycle of growing the next fanbase is critical in filling the Big House over time. When the AD alienates a future fan's season ticket-holding parents or treats the student section like unworthy punks, he's killing the fanatic desire of the program's future customers. And mediocre teams and empty stadiums don't exactly entice ESPN Game Day to your backyard, either.
These are just a few reasons I think people are wrong to fear the influence of Stephen Ross on the AD situation. I believe that Brandon and Hoke will lose their jobs eventually this year. The administration and the Regents value Michigan's reputation and traditions almost as much as its income. Almost. The idea that they would value one man's money over all other considerations is ridiculous to me, especially when so many other members of the Michigan family are screaming for change. 

So, I'm fairly certain that Stephen Ross will not be able to save Dave Brandon's job. Without a miracle, I doubt anyone could try and succeed. If he wants to hang with DB and plot to take over the world, perhaps they can ply Brandon's "If it ain't broke, break it" mantra seeking the governor's office in Lansing in 2018. He couldn't possibly screw up a whole state, could he? I know he'd get the Spartan vote.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. I think that Stephen Ross is concerned with the overall reputation of the University as well and that reputation is suffering in the current environment. I think even Spartan fans love the state of Michigan enough not to vote for DB. :)