Scrutiny relentless on embattled UM AD Dave Brandon

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor -- The noise keeps getting louder around embattled Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, who has regularly taken public hits during the last month.

Since a late-September incident during a football game in which Michigan player safety was called into question, Brandon has absorbed a number of public relations hits.

A UM Regents meeting directed by new president Mark Schlissel earlier this month provided some scolding comments from the president for the athletic department's handling of quarterback Shane Morris, who suffered a concussion in the Big Ten opener against Minnesota. Two of the eight Regents weighed in that day, as well, one backing Brandon, the other distancing himself with a "no comment."

No one in an official capacity has commented recently on Brandon and his status as the Michigan athletic director. The president has not spoken publicly on the topic since the Regents meeting.

But on Tuesday, the UM Alumni Association published reaction on its online site to the recent news that student season ticket prices would be lowered. Student central government president Bobby Dishell said at the Regents meeting that he and Brandon were working to lower prices, and Michigan announced last week a drop from $295 to $185.

Student ticket sales have dropped significantly in recent years and dipped to about 11,000 this year. An on-campus protest of Brandon in the aftermath of the Morris incident revealed that among the issues with the athletic director was ticket pricing.

The alumni responses revealed a number of issues with the athletic department, including the belief that the experience at football games has become too "corporate."

But in direct response to the lowering of student ticket prices, many non-students want a similar break.

"The athletic department procedures have emptied the cupboard of alumni support over the last several years and it will take a significant change within the department to bolster the level of support and fervor that existed then," wrote one alum.

Another wrote: "I am a 3rd generation Wolverine alumna living way out-of-state who waited 16 years to get season tickets and doesn't want to give them up, but the additional 'charitable contribution' plus the huge price increase for tickets ($95 for the PSU game) is a slap in my face and that of everyone who supports Michigan athletics."

Also on Tuesday, MGoBlog, a Michigan fan blog, published email exchanges allegedly made between Brandon and several fans. The blog could not verify Brandon wrote them, but the responses credited to him were dismissive and smug.

While the Michigan football team has faced on-field challenges and sits 3-5 heading into Saturday's game against Indiana, the off-field issues have, at times, felt circus-like.

Brandon and the football program became the subject of intense scrutiny since Michigan's Sept. 27 game against Minnesota. Morris, later diagnosed with a concussion, stayed in the game for one play after a hard fourth-quarter hit. Morris wobbled after getting up from the hit and needed assistance from a teammate to stand. He left the game after the next play but returned for one play shortly after when quarterback Devin Gardner's helmet came off.

After the story appeared on various national networks Sunday and Monday after the game, Brandon authored a lengthy statement after piecing together the events of that game night and the aftermath. The statement was publicly released just before 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Students then protested Brandon during a rally, and an online petition demanding the president fire Brandon gained steam and had more than 11,000 signatures when it was presented at the Regents meeting.

A letter signed by Michigan varsity coaches on Oct. 2 supporting Brandon was obtained by The Detroit News. Brandon that day conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with media outlets. He was apologetic and said there was a breakdown in communication with the medical staff regarding the Morris injury. He absolved the coaching staff.

Schlissel, in his opening remarks at the Regents meeting, said he planned to take his time exploring the issues with the athletic department.

"I was deeply disappointed in the department's initial response in the handling of the situation," Schlissel said. "We must be accountable for the facts, with a response that is timely and takes responsibility for errors. Without this, we break trust with our stakeholders. There are a number of additional issues facing our athletics department that will require a longer term approach as we work to establish the right balance between competitiveness, financial stability and the athletic traditions we hold dear."