Tradition Hinders Progress

Tradition. I can practically hear the song from “Fiddler on the Roof” playing as people squawk at how the University and its football program has lost its sense of the word in recent years with the Dave Brandon era and subsequent mediocre football program that occurred during his reign. Fans proclaim that the want the tradition of the old days when football was simply about football without all of the gimmicks and high prices the program has seen lately. Yet, I highly doubt that they would be saying that if Michigan was behind in the times compared to other football powerhouses like Alabama and Ohio State. The game is now at the point where if a program isn’t up to these standards then they are considered to be behind.

A Place of Tradition

The recent firing of Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke and the departure of athletic director Dave Brandon got me thinking about the concept of conservatism and how people like consistency but most of all, tradition. In recently reading the works of Irish conservative Edmund Burke, I was struck with his idea of how “a cobbler should stay at his task” i.e. stick with what you know and don’t change things. While I think that this idea is important to a degree, I also have to disagree with it. If we never change anything then we will be stuck in the past. Part of life is change.

People will always be disgruntled. People will always have something to complain about. That’s inevitable. When Rich Rodriguez was coaching people complained about him too. What I think is telling though of how the University will and must change is the statement made by Jim Hackett the other day. He said, “I want to get rid of the word Michigan Man.’” He was referencing what has become an iconic phrase harkening back to the days of Bo Schembechler, who used the term when describing how he wanted a candidate to be a coach at Michigan. However, people typically use it in reference to how someone has to be of the Michigan character and even have ties to Michigan. The problem with that, though is that we live in a world today where that just isn’t possible. The fans and the people who work for athletics need to adapt to the changing environment while also maintaining the integrity of the sport and the program that Michigan has always been so famous for.

Some Michigan Fans

I don’t think it is bad to assume that we should maintain an air of conservatism in the way our football program carries out business, but I also think it’s important to pay attention to the fact that the business game is always changing and sometimes we need to adapt to that. You can still maintain your core values while changing the way you do business.

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The Fall of Dave Brandon

The University of Michigan has a prestigious reputation.  The fact that Michigan is known for its top ranked academics and athletics puts the university under an immense amount of pressure.  Michigan claims to be the “Best of the West” in their fight song, setting the school’s standards extremely high.  The relentless pressure that is put on the university affects not only the students but the administration as well.  Michigan’s athletic director, Dave Brandon, was recently forced to resign from his position.  In chapter 13 of the Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes, states, “…from this diffidence of one another, there is no way for any man to secure himself, so reasonable, as anticipation; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can, so long, till he sees no other power great enough to endanger him” (Hobbes 2). This quote shows that Dave Brandon took this job knowing how difficult it would be and that his job was at stake everyday. Hobbes expresses that no security is possible and life is full of horror. The athletic director position at the University of Michigan is incomparable to any other and Dave Brandon understood that when he took the job; he knew how difficult the job was and what was at stake every single day.  The Michigan department program has been known for its competitiveness and high expectations.  Although Dave Brandon lost his position because of critics who complained that as the Michigan athletic director he did not uphold the expectations of the program, as a student athlete, I can vouch for Dave Brandon, by saying that he bettered this University every single day that he stepped into office.

The student body has ridiculed Dave Brandon because of his business decisions to raise ticket prices and expand and renovate the athletic facilities around south campus.  It is unfortunate that the opinion of Dave Brandon is so negative with the student population, but the athletes have had the chance to meet Mr. Brandon and have experienced the positive changes he has made for the athlete population. The student body had such a negative outlook on Dave Brandon that they took great lengths to attempt to get him fired.  A few actions they took was having a rally in the Diag and creating an online petition calling for his job.

Students in the Diag rallying to fire Dave Brandon.

Students in the Diag rallying to fire Dave Brandon.

The problem is that many people that signed the petition without knowing all details. One main issue with the petition was that some people who signed it without attempting to look for all the facts and searching for Mr. Brandon’s and the athletes’ side of the story.  One huge example is that Dave Brandon cares deeply about each student athlete on the Michigan campus.  As part of the first women’s lacrosse team here at Michigan, I can vouch that without Dave Brandon the men’s and women’s lacrosse programs would not exist at Michigan.  He not only fought for the creation of our program, but has also raised millions of dollars to provide our teams, as well as all the smaller teams in the athletic department, the best facilities in the NCAA. These facilities will be placed on South Campus and are priced at 200 million dollars.  Dave Brandon has not only promised but has guaranteed his athletes the best, and has risen above all standards as our athletic director.  He works around the clock to make sure that the athletes at Michigan are taken care of and satisfied to be at this university. He makes sure to ask us personal questions about how things are going in order to see if he can help in any way possible. He takes time out of his day to be at all of our games. He even flew to the first women’s lacrosse game at Villanova to watch in person, as the lacrosse team made history. He is not just a businessman; he is personable and caring for each individual athlete on campus. Dave Brandon has guaranteed that all 935 student athletes at Michigan are satisfied with their lifestyles and if you ask me, that is the most important and most difficult job an athletic director can have, and he was successful.

Dave Brandon giving support to a football player during the PSU game

Dave Brandon giving support to a football player during the PSU game

Dave Brandon is a true Michigan man.  He dedicated his work to bettering the athletic programs here at the University of Michigan.  He is an incredible leader and it is OUR loss to have him resign.  Unfortunately, the decline of the football team’s success over the passed few years had to be blamed on someone and the outrage of Michigan’s fan base, alumni and student body caused people to revolt against Dave Brandon.  The pressure on Michigan’s athletic department put Dave Brandon under a magnifying glass and the world was waiting for him to do something wrong. As we can see throughout our history: if something goes wrong, society will find someone to blame.  Dave Brandon is human, he is not perfect, and it was not right for us to put that immense amount of pressure on him, to set him up to fail. Dave Brandon had to step down; the job had become an endangerment to his livelihood. Any respectable person would understand why he would resign. The announcement of Dave Brandon’s resign was a shock and a terrible reality to everyone in the athletic department. The fact that the student body and many other fans turned against the football team and Dave Brandon is something that student athletes cannot believe happened. Dave Brandon will forever be missed by his student athletes.

The Relatedness of Social Contracts and the State of Nature to the University of Michigan

I chose to attend the University of Michigan after going to an incredibly small college preparatory school that left me feeling stifled and in need of a drastic change. I got exactly what I wanted when I stepped onto campus the fall of my freshman year; everywhere I turned there was a new person for me to meet. Yet, I immediately felt overwhelmed by the vast size of this institution. I now felt like a minnow in a sea of sharks. It seems as if there are a billion different organizations at the University and everyone is occupied and passionate about something. The truth is though, that even though the University does provide various communities for the students to be a part of, there is still a sense of disjointedness when I speak with many of my peers. 

Could this be because of the administration? Have we created a university that is structured around self-involvement that it does not encourage collaboration both academically and socially? If so, it would certainly reflect the political climate of our society today.

In reading the works of Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke in class recently, I immediately began to make connections to different institutions in my own life and those that I encounter on an every day basis. The most glaring of these was Michigan. Obviously, we are not in a state of nature, but we are being ruled over with a governing body. We have social contracts to maintain; if we pay for our education and obey the rules in turn the University will give us the tools to go out into the world a successful individual.

These three theorists would disagree about what a lack of structure, i.e. the state of nature would do to education… If we were all free to choose how to educate ourselves little would probably get done and chaos would ensue. Rousseau would lead you to believe that the state of nature was a place without rationality with vast freedom, while Hobbes would argue that people are intrinsically selfish and would undoubtedly turn one each other, and Locke would be in the middle ground saying that while all people are self-interested in the state of nature, but also nonviolent.

I believe that the students at Michigan are ruled to an extent with all of these social contract and state of nature theories in mind. Our University is run by a democracy similar to the proposed solution by Locke with delegates presiding over our supposed best interests (Regents! Athletic directors!). While we do not have a sovereign (something Hobbes would endorse) to rule over us, there is an idea that if left without rules we would become self-interested, fearful barbarians.

This is a competitive university, with some of the most talented students in the world. This may also arguably be the most divided period in recent years for the campus. People divide themselves based on clubs, interests, athletic capabilities, Greek Life, even class and race to a certain extent causing social disjointedness. Continuously, there is a discussion raging on campus about the lack of diversity amongst the student body.

However, there are times when I look around this campus and I have never seen it more united. Most recently, the student body came together with the support of alumni for a rally to fire the now former athletic director, Dave Brandon. It is worth noting that this could not happen in a Hobbesian type rule. It’s moments like these, though, that give me hope for Michigan, that despite its huge size the students can still gather and maintain a sense of community. I think that people forget that even though we are so big that we are united over one common desire: to be at this school and have an amazing future. So in my opinion people are actually more like Rousseau would claim them to be: when we need to come together we will, and we will make sure we all do our part to create a thriving and successful community.

The Renounceth of the Michigan Right

This fall has been a rarity in Michigan Athletic history with the recent struggles of our beloved football team. With all the negativity engulfing the campus, it has resulted in the need for a scapegoat to pin the losses on. Unfortunately students and even some faculty members have found it most reasonable to point the finger on turmoil of the fall towards Athletic Director Dave Brandon. From rallies to petitions, Mr. Brandon has been faced with all in an up front manner that no person deserves. Regardless of how well our athletic teams perform in their respective seasons, there is no excuse to display frustration in such a disrespectful manner. As a student-athlete of this school, the way in which the student body and alumni handled this adversity, which became the center piece of the season, was a distraction that didn’t solve the true problem at hand. That problem was the fact that Michigan football isn’t normally what is known to be.

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Yes I do agree there was something that needed to be done about our athletic department, but not in the fashion it was performed. The culture of Michigan Athletics since Brandon’s hiring, was treated as more of business rather than the focus of benefitting the student body and alumni. Therefore I wasn’t surprised when the times finally got tough that it became so easy for people to use Brandon’s name as the cancer that infected the University of Michigan. Although Brandon didn’t make the University of Michigan, one of 26 Division one programs that actually made more than spent in the last year. He turned Michigan into a haven for prospect recruits to strongly consider when it came to their final decision. However, the situation with quarterback, Shane Morris, ultimately sealed the fate of the once beloved Athletic Director.

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Recently in our Political Science class we read and discussed a piece, Leviathan, by Hobbes in which addressed the actions of a man when it came to his rights and liberties in chapter 14. The chapter spoke a lot about the way in which a man’s action define a lot about his character. It got really specific in the sense that with each action comes a motive behind it. And with said motive results in the how the outcome is displayed and portrayed to those affected by each decision. Through this article I made a connection to the situation here at Michigan. “Whenever a man transferreth his right, or renoucneth it; it is either in consideration of some right reciprocally transferred to himself; or for some other good he hopeth for thereby.” (Hobbes) Through this quote, it speaks of what Dave Brandon’s intentions were when he finally decided to resign. Brandon heard of what was being said about him and the decisions he made while in his position of power, therefore when he felt it was the right time he renounced his position for the benefit of the public. He also did this to save himself for his pride and reputation were beginning to be tainted as each new article and petition was published by angry Wolverines. “..nothing else but the security of a man’s person, in his life, and in the means of so preserving life, as not be weary of it.” (Hobbes)

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Although Dave Brandon was far from the best when it came to being an Athletic Director, he still made strides to bring Michigan pride. He always had what he thought was the best interest of the school in mind when it came to whatever decision he made regarding athletics. And that is all anyone can really ask for, at the end of the day when you know that your best effort was put forward then there is nothing to be ashamed. Even though Brandon’s departure from Michigan wasn’t the way he expected to say goodbye, he still willed be missed and remembered for his effort to help make Michigan truly, “the leaders and the best.”

Dave Brandon is not a Prince

I see a lot of unhappy people walking around Michigan’s campus lately. While some of that may be due to upcoming midterms, a lot of that has to do with the football team’s losing streak. Michigan is considered the “winningest” football team in college history. (“Wikipedia”) This is a title its fans take very seriously. After the Lloyd Carr years Michigan struggled with the newly hired coach, Rich Rodriguez. The most recent coach, since 2011 is Brady Hoke who fans have come to regard with an almost fanatic hatred.

Machiavelli would not approve.

I group up in Ann Arbor and was raised by a diehard Wolverine’s fan who didn’t even attend the school. I remember the sentiments that the townies have had towards these two coaches. “Rich Rod” generally was regarded with disdain and fans praised the decision to hire the current Hoke. Many believed that the football team would be brought back to its glory days of the Schembechler years. The hopes were high, especially when Michigan beat Ohio State. However, people are fickle and when a football team with Michigan’s prestige begins to lose nearly every game people are bound to go ballistic.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in class the other day that a light bulb went off in my head. We were talking about Machiavelli and what it takes to be a good Prince. Sports are kind of like politics. Dave Brandon, is kind of the Prince. Except, he’s a prince who doesn’t know how to be a very good one. Michigan’s recent luck in football may have everything to do with fortuna and Brandon can’t figure out how to roll with the dice given to him.

Brandon believes in running athletics like a business. This is all due to him being a businessman himself; he was formerly an executive of Domino’s Pizza. While he may have exercise “manly strength” as a leader should, he also lacks foresight and the ability to win over his people. I’m sure Brandon had no idea that Michigan would do so poorly in football or that Shane Morris would sustain a concussion that would go unnoticed by Brady Hoke. However, by being a leader it is his job to deal with the unpredictable. Machiavelli would not approve of Dave Brandon or his actions. Because it was his actions following the Shane Morris injury that would prove Brandon does not have the characteristics to maintain respect as a leader. He released a press statement at 1 in the morning, further incriminating himself and his ability to lead. He has alienated himself from the people so much by portraying himself as an arrogant, narcissist that he no longer has any desirable traits. Maybe he is all of those things, but part of being a successful leader is not showing them. Machiavelli believes that a leader should portray themselves as kind, humane, and faithful. (“The Prince”) While Machiavelli also believes that it is better to be feared than loved, that is hardly what has become of Brandon. Students and fans congregate in the hopes of getting him fired and recently a fan even changed his occupation on Wikipedia to “Pizza Delivery Man.” (“The Detroit News”) 

Dave Brandon has raised millions of dollars for this University. Yet, his more noticeable contribution is the steep hike in ticket sales and the massive sports complexes he has built. He appears to have “dirty hands” when it comes to the Shane Morris incident as well. While he eventually came out in support of Brady Hoke, he still delayed making a press statement. All in all, he has portrayed himself as a poor leader. While Brandon has continuously justified his actions and policies over the years in an “the ends justify the means” attitude, there haven’t been tremendous results to justify anything.


Michigan needs to stand by their school, which cannot be done by boycotting the athletics department in any way. Where is our sense of nationalism? You cannot simply quit just because of poor leadership. Part of being in a strong nation is sticking with it even when the going gets tough. In turn, Michigan needs leaders who appear to have strong convictions, passion, and the ability to create a loyal following.