Michigan AD Dave Brandon is Proof College Athletic Departments Are Not Corporations


Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon is learning the hard way that college athletic departments aren’t multinational corporations. Not yet, anyway.

In some ways, that may be to Brandon’s benefit. If Michigan athletics were publicly traded — specifically, if Michigan football was publicly traded — the stock would emulate that of Bear Stearns in March 2008.

In that scenario, the shareholders would force him out with a golden parachute (or Adidas-branded maize-and-blue parachute, as it were).

But because college sports aren’t played on Wall Street, Brandon can deflect to the shareholders, ergo the Michigan fan base, by labeling the mere suggestion he step down as “hurtful,” which he did in an interview with The Michigan Daily.

Perhaps reflecting on his feelings is one of those “frankly more important” things Brandon had on his mind while Michigan football coach Brady Hoke was under fire for leaving a possibly concussed Shane Morris in last week’s game against Minnesota.

But I’m not writing a takedown of Brandon specifically. Others have done so much more expertly than I could.

Rather, Brandon’s missteps as Michigan AD speak to another matter bigger than the winningest program in college football history. It speaks to college athletics as a whole and the cynical course they’ve been on for awhile now.

College sports at their highest level — thus, football and men’s basketball in the most high-profile conference — are treated as business. As such, these programs are being treated more and more as corporations.

It’s an interesting and, for some, concerning phenomenon that Lehigh Football Nation tackled in-depth this summer, albeit in a different context.

Brandon’s hire in 2010 is evidence of this phenomenon, and his failure is suggestion that it isn’t the right course for college sports.

Dave Brandon had no experience running a college athletic department when he was hired.

Brandon on the roster of Michigan football teams, yes. But his affiliation with Michigan football functioned more as window dressing for the actual motivation behind his hire, which was his success as Domino’s CEO.

Domino’s flourished under Brandon’s direction, and obviously the thought was Michigan athletics would do the same.

The problem is that these are two much different worlds.

A major corporation can cut costs by slashing low-level employees’ hours and few bat an eyelash. But leaving the marching band home for a big game is sure to raise cackles.

A franchise owner can mismanage employees at a location and the CEO need not concern himself with it. And indeed, the detached reaction that initially emanated from Brandon’s office concerning Morris’ apparent concussion was that of a CEO being asked about the problems at Chain Store #1245 in American strip mall #30014.

College athletic departments don’t operate in this way. Missteps aren’t so easily remedied as giving away a few freebies (with purchase, of course).

The direction of college football may be one in which every program is nothing more than a brand with players as products and fans as consumers.

We’re not there yet, though, and the deserved backlash to Dave Brandon is proof.