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Dave Brandon’s olive branch to Michigan students reeks of desperation

Dave Brandon will never be accused of being a stupid businessman, but going from CEO to heading an athletic department has proven a bit more challenging than he or the higher-ups at the University of Michigan thought.

Brandon has gone from beloved for hiring “Michigan Man” Brady Hoke and increasing support for men’s basketball head coach John Beilein to the most hated man on the Michigan campus. But why?

Some may say the one-time CEO of Domino’s pizza has sliced and diced the fans, all in an effort to maximize the money coming in to the coffers. Others may say Brandon has been too loyal to the people he’s put in leadership positions and have failed.

Whatever side of criticism you fall on, it’s clear that Brandon is under fire — and it is coming from all sides.

He’s been protested on campus by students, and things have gotten so bad that the student government went to a recent board of regents meeting with a clear statement against Brandon.

“The athletic department has broken its trust with the student body,” Central Student Government president Bobby Dishell told the regents.

Brandon appears to have heard that message, and earlier this week he attempted to reach an olive branch out to the students, lowering the season ticket prices for them from the crazy height of $280 to $175 for the 2015 season.

It was one part of a two-part strategy for Brandon, the second part was announcing this change exclusively through the student newspaper, the Michigan Daily.

So, why the massive change in direction for student ticket pricing? According to Brandon it’s all about actually listening to the wants and needs of students.

“We listen,” Brandon told the Daily. “We’ve been listening. …  We really learned that two really important components to re-engaging with our students in trying to create a more robust, more enthusiastic and larger student section for next year’s football season was price and strength of schedule.”

Call me a skeptic if you want, but this move had nothing to do with re-engaging with the students. It’s all about making sure the Wolverines coffers are more full next season.

The proof lies in the numbers, numbers that clearly show Brandon was heading in the wrong direction with his treatment of the students. Last season, student attendance was right near 19,000 and this year it’s down to 12,000 as ticket prices went crazy high.

Coincidence? We think not…

Brandon made a calculated business decision, thinking that “this is Michigan” and no matter the price point, people will pay to be a part of the Maize ‘N Blue. Clearly, he found out that the basic laws of economics apply to college athletics.

Can you imagine Domino’s announcing it is going to charge $25 in cities where they are the only delivery pizza joint? It would never happen because the company would know that it would be a price point that people would walk away from.

However, the treatment of the general student population in Ann Arbor is just one of two big issues Brandon and the athletic department face. See, the students plus alumni being pissed at you is a terrible combination…and that’s exactly what Brandon is facing.

Prominent alumni are also calling out the football team and Dave Brandon, with much consternation over the treatment of the undergrads and even more about how Brandon has failed to be a good steward of the Michigan brand in public.

No incident exemplified the lack of common public relations sense than the handling of the Shane Morris concussion situation. There simply was no excuse for everyone not being on the same page with public statements, and that falls directly on Brandon’s desk.

It ticked off former players and prominent alumni, including a public policy grad student who stood up at the board of regents meeting.

“We are nauseated by the doublespeak, public relations gaffes and contempt that many see in the athletic department,” Zeid El-Kilani told the regents, via “It is clear that change is necessary. That is why I and 11,000 other students and alumni respectfully request the university relieve Mr. Brandon of his duties as athletic director.

Having the people who control the university system hearing that kind of criticism and also doing the criticizing in open forums should serve as a wake up call.

Brandon made the first olive branch to the students, but will anyone buy it as a genuine move? If was truly about listening to the students, it would’ve come much sooner and not on the heels of the most tenuous month of his reign as athletic director.

Now it’s on Brandon to make the right moves not because of pressure from the public, but because it comes from being a genuine leader.

If he can’t get the students, alumni or the board of regents on his side quickly, Brady Hoke may not be the only one on his way out of Ann Arbor come late November.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball


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