Review- Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football

IMG_3786Outsiders who question how Michigan football warrants three best selling books over four short years are completely oblivious to the fervent devotion of its fanbase. And readers expecting a short tome cashing in on Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in Ann Arbor will be surprised by the scholarly work in Endzone.

Don’t be fooled, this book is about more than just football. Author John Bacon has chronicled how David Brandon’s reckless mismanagement ran the Michigan athletic department into the ground.

Brandon made a rookie mistake easily identified by any first year marketing student— he treats the hallowed Michigan brand like a commodity.

Instead of focusing on the distinct characteristics that made the Michigan football experience unique he added things that made it just like everything else. In came the big game uniforms (even if they didn’t fit properly), the role of the band was minimized in favor of piped in music (Eminem’s Lose Yourself might be awesome when its 4th and 1 at the goal versus Ohio State but it’s embarrassing versus Delaware State) while the students were squeezed out of their seats by a combination of price hikes and byzantine seating policies.

Brandon whose goal was to make every game a “Super Bowl” like experience for fans instead emptied the Big House of paying customers. For Michigan’s final season game last season the athletic department padded attendance with nearly 17,000 tickets— more than the amount of free tickets given out for the entire 2010 season. Michigan’s vaunted waitlist for season tickets was also zeroed out by a combination of poor team performance and athletic department marketing blunders like game tickets with soda purchase.

Brandon’s megalomania is on display as he inserts himself between his coaches and their players.

A good manager hires good people and gets out the way— but not Brandon who sits in on game film study with Hoke and his staff. Brandon apparently is unfamiliar with the observer effect. We can only speculate on how his presence negatively impacted Hoke and his coaching staff but one thing is clear— his behavior was atypical for an athletic director at a major university. 

Whether cutting the nets down after a critical basketball victory or sending scathing email replies to fans Brandon chose a path that caused his underlings and professional peers to question his methods.

Bacon repeats a story told previously how Brandon’s failure to be an impact player for Michigan during his playing career may have fueled his drive for business success. His return to Michigan and chest bumping with the team on the sideline gave him the acclaim he always yearned for. One wonders what lesson he’ll take from this latest very public failure.

What makes Endzone so compelling is that shows how the Shane Morris concussion-gate fiasco was a direct result of Brandon’s mismanagement of personnel. His atmosphere of fear resulted in experienced staff being shuttled out of critical jobs and being replaced with Brandon loyalists who weren’t up the to task.

His remaking of the athletic department in his image is the most depressing part of this book. Brandon may be gone but his employees live on. New athletic director Mark Hackett inherits a department populated with Brandon’s minions— like Yeltsin surrounded by apparatchiks who resisted the democratization of Russia.

Michigan has a mixed track record with business-minded athletic directors. Former AD Bill Martin filled coiffures beofr and hired basketball coach John Beilein before whiffing on Rich Rodriguez. Brandon’s failure is well documented in this book and now Michigan turns to another athletic director with no significant athletic experience.

Hackett has his work cut out for him.

Bacon also expertly details the orchestrations that brought Jim Harbaugh back to Ann Arbor.

Hopefully, the next book will detail Harbaugh’s march to the Big Ten title and National Championship.

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But until then this book gives fans a lot to chew on.

Michigan fans will agonize reliving the Brandon-Hoke era while opposing fans will enjoy an insider’s take on Brandon’s self immolation all the while hoping their programs don’t follow a similar path.

Brady Hoke in the Crossfire Between AD and Regents

On one side is athletic director David Brandon, who has been nationally lauded for his business acumen and overseeing the transformation of the University of Michigan’s athletic department.

On the other is the Michigan Board of Regents, who thus far have been willing accomplices to Brandon’s dramatic reinvention of Michigan football tradition.


The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come- How Greed Killed College Football

Have you heard the good news?

The Michigan Wolverine Football Program made $61.6 MILLION in 2011-12.

For most organizations it would be cause for celebration. In Ann Arbor it was time to raise prices.

Yes, despite record profits the Michigan Athletic Department announced that is raising taxes on football season ticket holders…err increasing the amount of preferred seat donations for those who wish to keep their season tickets.

The AD can’t even type Seat Donation with a straight face

The move will help pad the bottom line of the Athletic Department and help to fuel another wave of buildings on the athletic campus.

But the move intensifies the debate of how  skyrocketing ticket prices impact the sustainability of the athletic department profit model.

The ranks of basketball and hockey season ticket holders have been thinned by years of price increases and student season ticket holder numbers have likewise fluctuated.

With huge pockets of empty seats in the student section in Michigan Stadium this past season, it appears that even football isn’t immune to the impact of high ticket prices. Many season ticket holders began attending games as students, transitioning to public season ticket holders after graduation. The Athletic Department risks losing these fans as they graduate.

Many current football season tickets holders are selling a portion of their season tickets to help subsidize their costs. This latest increase have caused some to question the true value of their season tickets. With a waiting list for football season ticket holders, the athletic department seems to be immune to people not renewing their season tickets.

If the athletic department could weather the RichRod era with its losing record and NCAA scandal, a few lost season ticket holders doesn’t seem like a big deal. But with every long time fan who gives up their football, hockey, or basketball season tickets the athletic department gets in return a customer with little or no loyalty to Michigan Athletics.

As the Big Ten expands to include such powerhouses as Maryland and Rutgers, season ticket holders are questioning what kind of games they’ll be seeing in the Big House in future seasons. While the future impact of expansion and tickets prices are unknown, the people making the current decisions won’t be around to face the long term ramifications of these recent developments.

I’m sure we haven’t seen the end of the money grab. Big Ten expansion will only drive revenues so far. Online viewing will start to erode the stranglehold of cable television and then the Big Ten Network will need to some other source cash. That’s why within the next 5 years we’ll see major event games follow the pay-per-view model. It’s the next logical step in the evolution of greed.

The conference will win, the schools will win, and college football will be headed down the road to being about as relevant as boxing.

It’s a bleak future when the people running your athletic program care more about dollars than fans. But more and more it seems that the short sighted greed of a few will lead to the death of college football as we know it.

Preferred Seat Donation Letter from David Brandon (First Draft)

After a few glasses of Cristal (compliments of adidas), Michigan Athletic David Brandon put down his thoughts on the preferred seat donation program…

Dear Bryan,

Hey buddy!  How are things in your neck of the woods?  Well, I have to say things are pretty swell here!  I mean, apart from that 8-4 football season (who would have known that all those away games would have been so darn difficult) and the hockey team taking a dive.  But hey, have you SEEN that basketball team?  WOW!

psd_adYou and all of your other fellow pals in the end zones are great people.  Really you are!  You’re loud, wild, crazy, and you throw some really cool tailgate parties.  I know they’re not as fancy as the ones in the Crisler parking lot, but a hot dog is a hot dog, and you guys know how to cook them just how I like them.  The problem is that I’ve made a lot of promises lately. Crazy promises. We’ve got about 600 or something other sports programs (I forget them all – I can’t remember everything), and face it, this one and basketball are the only ones that are paying the university’s bills right now.  I know in 2004 that the message was sent that you wouldn’t have to pay anything for a seat donation where you sit.  Sure, we’ve tripled our revenue from bowl games proceeds and we’re rolling in cash from that Big Ten Network revenue and all of these luxury boxes.  I also know that your ticket stub for the MSU game this year at $95 is a little different then that stub you may have saved from the 1995 MSU game that read $35….but our new tickets are really shiny now!

Basically, we’re strapped.  I’m counting on you pal!  And don’t think you’re alone.  We made sure to stick it to those rich folks that sit everywhere else (yeah, those jerks).  We have to get some money, and fast! We just got a deal that we couldn’t pass up.  We met this guy at a Legitimate Businessmen’s Social Club meeting and he told us that if we build 10 buildings with his company, he’ll throw the 11th and 12th structures in for free!  How can you pass that up?  Plus, with the price of gas so high and my recent addiction to candy cigarettes, $800,000 a year is just not going to cut it as a salary.

Anyway, we need to get this done quickly and it costs a lot of money.  We figured an extra $10 million a year in perpetuity should just about cover it.  And the good news is, we aren’t raising ticket prices this year.  Not one cent!!  I know you were expecting it, but I’m just that kind of guy. It’s just like a tax cut!  We accept cash, check or Diner’s Club cards only.  Make sure you get this in quickly, or we’re going to give your tickets to some random Ohio State fan….and we really don’t want that happening.  Could you live with the fact that YOU let that happen?

Anyway, we’ll be expecting your $75 soon.  The heated yellow brick road in front of Crisler has already broken ground and I had to front my 11th Bentley as collateral.  Those builders are relentless!

Maybe I’ll see you some Saturday…..


P.S. I’ve enclosed a picture showing how dire the situation is here at the Athletic Department. Send help quick!


Special Thanks to Bryan Smitt for passing this along!