An Argument that Michigan Can Terminate Dave Brandon's Contract "With Cause" - Part 1

"We bring you to Michigan to take care of Michigan," Michigan Softball's head coach Carol Hutchins has said to her team. "Your job is to protect that block M."

Fundamentally, this is why the University of Michigan hired Dave Brandon in 2010 to be the Director of Athletics. The only difference in what the University told Brandon is that no specific provision or the long list of "general duties and responsibilities" expressed in his employment contract never flat out says, "The Director shall take care of Michigan and protect that block M." If you take a good look at each job duty he has, though, this is the spirit of the contract, and I believe the University, if it wanted to, could and should fire Brandon. That is not all. I want to argue that the University could fire Brandon "with cause" under his contract, which would make Brandon not entitled to receive many of the bonuses, additional compensation, and benefits that he would receive if he were fired "without cause."

This will be a similar multi-part format to the Brady Hoke posts I wrote a couple of weeks ago, where I will first lay out some relevant background information and facts. Then, I will describe and analyze the germane contract provisions and, lastly, apply them to my overall argument. While many passionate Wolverines are calling for Brandon to be placed under the chopping block, it is exactly that: a passionate cry for help. On the other hand, many Wolverines are sadly beginning to settle for mediocrity when they are accustomed to a history of success. For you to form your own opinion and to hear this argument out, keep these notes at the forefront:

  • Former university president James Duderstadt has recently said, "No matter how much you 'build the brand,' if you don't have the product, sooner or later, it gets you."
  • In his last year as Athletic Director, Bill Martin earned $380,000, a salary approximately three times less than Brandon's current salary. Neither man had any athletic department experience prior to obtaining the coveted job title.
  • There is essentially zero faculty control in the athletic department. Any entity operating as a business, practically speaking, needs to have a group of people (e.g., a board of directors) whose job it is to oversee the business' operations and keeps things under control. Michigan's Athletic Department has no one to oversee Brandon or keep a check on his decisions. Technically, there is, such as the chief marketing director who was hired through Brandon's intense overhaul of the department and oversaw Brandon's failed student loyalty program. Actually, there have been instances where the Advisory Board on Intercollegiate Athletics did not know of Brandon's plans until he publicly announced them (e.g., promoting lacrosse to a varsity sport and skyrocketing ticket prices). Somewhere, 100 new employees were hired into the department since his arrival and 30 new positions were created. Where are they, and do they do anything with real substance? Brandon has been able to do whatever he wants, and people have trusted his judgment because he is a highly experienced businessman. Obviously, Brandon naively believes that fans will continue to come to Michigan Stadium no matter what, even if he equates two student tickets to two Cokes like the product is one of his own beloved Dominos pizza creations.
  • Speaking of the two-tickets-for-two-Cokes incident, revenues are indeed as high as ever, for Michigan Football raised $82 million in 2012-2013 and was able to give $58 million to fund the University's other 30 varsity teams. In comparison, Michigan Basketball brought in $15 million that same season. It is common knowledge that football and basketball pay the bills for the non-revenue sports (e.g., the 29 non-revenue sports saw a composite revenue of $8 million but cost $31 million to operate). This statistic has little to no value, though, because the public university with the largest alumni base, a stadium that seats over 100,000 spectators, a conference broadcasting network that reaches from the Great Plains to the East Coast, and historic success over more than a century should be able to bring in the dough. Revenue is not the same as respect.
  • Imagine, if you will, what the Michigan Athletics Department revenue stream would look like without the spike in ticket prices (TOTAL = $37 million revenue from its six home games; student season tickets increasing from $28 per game in 2010 when Brandon began to $40, non-student season tickets increasing from $54 to approximately $65, and the current dynamic pricing structure for individual tickets based on supply and demand) that Brandon still defends are below competitor levels, the $100 increase in "seat licenses" that already require a $500 donation and an additional $250 per seat, and without the almost $4 million that spectators spend at the stadium and for parking. Comparatively, those prices are in the middle of what Brandon views as competitors - the Big Ten institutions - with Michigan State's $44 average per ticket and Ohio State's $79 average per ticket, but what about the competitors of the same product quality, like Utah? Wait, never mind. Utah beat Michigan in The Big House and, if based on that performance, is a higher quality product. I thought that was a stormy dream.
  • If you're a Michigan fan, ask yourself why you continue to wear the block "M." For me, I wear it because I have been a lifelong fan and am proud of the degree I received there. I support the boys out there, but right now it is a difficult pill to swallow because of the men in charge who are depleting the beautiful block "M"'s image and value in the nation's eyes.

There is still so much more goodness to discuss in setting up my argument that centers around provisions in Exhibit C (Director of Athletics - Job Duties and Responsibilities) of Brandon's employment contract. So, gear up for the next post!