Student: 'Buildup of bad will' led to Brandon exit

By Rod Beard, Detroit News
Zeid El-Kilani, left, a grad student in public policy from New York, and student body president Bobby Dishell talk with reporters after the announcement of Dave Brandon's resignation.

Ann Arbor — The news of Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon's resignation spread across the campus quickly on Friday.

Though there was growing discontent from the student body concerning Brandon's strained relationship with students — including a significant increase in season-ticket prices, to the most expensive in the Big Ten — his departure came as a bit of a surprise.

The Wolverines play their homecoming game against Indiana on Saturday afternoon and with the alumni and fans at Michigan Stadium, the resignation will make for a different atmosphere among UM faithful.

"The timing is definitely surprising — I did not expect anything in the middle of the season," said Bobby Dishell, president of the Michigan Central Student Government. "If something were to happen, I expected it would be at the end of the season."

But increasing public-relations gaffes, including emails allegedly sent from Brandon to fans encouraging them to find a new team to root for, turned up the pressure.

For business major Paige Hackenberg, making a switch now is welcome, as things haven't been the same for the Michigan program in almost a decade.

"With Brandon, a lot of students felt that was lacking and not the tradition and the pride we want from our school. It's exciting to see that student voices were responded to and that the university is making strides that students agree with," said Hackenberg, a junior from Grosse Pointe Park. "It's a big change. Since Lloyd Carr left, we've had a lot of adjustments and readjustments and there's been a lot going on.

"It'll be interesting to see how we go from there."

One of the significant dividing issues was the increase in student-ticket pricing, which generated revenue for the athletic department, but left out students who couldn't afford the hikes.

That included Zeid El-Kilani, a graduate student in the school of public policy. Once the increases took effect, he wasn't able to purchase full-season packages as he had done previously.

"I got priced out — I pay for them myself and couldn't afford $300 student tickets," said El-Kilani, who is from New York. "I still made it to games but I couldn't afford the season-ticket package. For me it was somewhat personal, but it was about what was right for the university."

After the news conference announcing Brandon's resignation, El-Kilani was more confident in the path forward, sensing that UM president Mark Schlissel would take the students' concerns into account in choosing a permanent athletic director.

"It signals that we're going to have a better connection between the athletic and academic portions of our campus," he said. "The president really understands what's at stake and he really gets it."

Dishell said that he enjoyed working with Brandon, including the effort to lower student-ticket prices in the wake of the controversy. But with all the issues facing Brandon, there wasn't a single issue that was Brandon's undoing; rather, it was an accumulation of negative events, stoked by the handling of Shane Morris, the quarterback who suffered a mild concussion during a game but was allowed to go back into the game.

Further, miscommunications with a promotion that gave away two football tickets for buying two Coca-Cola products and other incidents made things untenable.

"I don't think it was one specific thing," Dishell said. "It was a combination of things: putting blame on students for not coming to games, the Coca-Cola incident, the Shane Morris incident.

"It was a buildup of time after time. It was a continual buildup of bad will."

As a search committee is formed to help select a permanent athletic director, Dishell said he hopes that the CSG is included in that group, along with Schlissel and interim athletic director Jim Hackett to have a voice in choosing Brandon's successor.