SBD/July 29, 2014/Colleges

Michigan AD Dave Brandon Discusses Handling Critics, Pushing Toward Unfinished Business

Brandon says he spends more time on fundraising than some other ADs
Univ. of Michigan AD Dave Brandon last week sat for a Q&A with Bob Wojnowski of the DETROIT NEWS, who wrote Brandon "seemed at ease, explaining in confident, measured tones why he pushes so hard to reshape Michigan athletics, and how he handles pushback." Below are excerpts from the Q&A:

Q: You’ve accomplished a lot as AD, and also stirred up your share of critics. What has been the biggest challenge?
Brandon: You have so many stakeholders, people who are passionate about what we do, and they all have opinions. So on a daily, hourly basis, you’ve got bloggers and tweeters and Facebook and talk radio, so many ways for people to express their point of view. But what I’ve learned in this job is, no matter what decision you make, there’s gonna be some percentage of people that are gonna disagree with it and create controversy.

Q: Along those lines, it became a hot issue when the regents voted to deny the use of fireworks at two home football games. Were you blindsided by that?
Brandon: I don’t know about blindsided, but it was surprising. Just because, No. 1, it’s not the most important thing that’s ever happened around here, so I was surprised it got so much attention. The regents have every right to approve or not approve use of pyrotechnics on campus. We’ve used them before and we got the feeling that worked really well and fans enjoyed it. I would’ve bet it was kind of a customary, no big deal kind of thing. It turned out differently, and that’s OK.

Q: The regents’ vote was viewed by some as a shot across your bow. Did you take it that way?
Brandon: No. If I took things like that personally, I couldn’t function in this job. You know what, I’m happy to accept their decision and move on. We can’t always do everything we want to do.

Q: A new president, Mark Schlissel, took over July 14, and he told the media, “I want to be sure athletics exists in an appropriate balance with everything else the university does.” Is this any hint of a subtle cultural shift in athletics?
Brandon: Again, I think people micro-analyze everything that has anything to do with what we do here. No, I don’t think the new president was saying anything other than his belief. ... I’ve seen no indication that our new president wants to make any kind of change, although he’s been here two weeks, and it’s hard for me to predict. The one thing I think Mark wants to do is learn more about Michigan athletics.

Q: How much longer you want to do this?
Brandon: Depends on the day. It’s a very intense position. ... I understand there’s criticism about commercialism, but I can’t tell you I completely understand why. ... Am I guilty of pushing the needle in terms of trying to grow this enterprise? Yeah. ... Am I guilty of spending maybe more time than some athletic directors raising money? Yeah. ... This is a very tough time for college sports, with all of this restructuring, reform agenda at the NCAA level. ... For right now, I’m very committed to taking care of some unfinished business here (DETROIT NEWS, 7/28).

PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS: Brandon said of waiting for a resolution for unionization among student-athletes, "I think we're going to have a tumultuous year or two years of intervention and change and forced change and uncertainty. It's going to be a time of constant struggle and change and will stress the system and everybody who participates in it because it's hard to plan. Right now to do a five-year forecast to know what you need to be doing is virtually impossible" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/28). Meanwhile, in Detroit, Mark Snyder notes Brandon has seen "disappointing ticket sales" for non-marquee football games. Brandon: "We're finding this year, if you don’t have a marquee national matchup, if you don’t have Michigan State, if you don't have Ohio State, you're going to be in a situation where a lot of people are going to go, 'that's not an interesting schedule.' So what we’re trying to do is, best we can within the confines of what we're dealing with, is making sure every year we've got marquee matchups" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 7/29).
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