Thursday, January 14, 2010

Domino's Pizza and the Reality of College Athletics

It was only a matter of time. College football and basketball have become commodities to be consumed by viewers on TV and for a privileged few to view at the stadiums. Big time University programs obsesses over "branding" and spend ten of thousands of dollars on refining their product; targeting their "demographics" (almost never students by the way since they buy so few tickets or products) and working with "sponsors" to give them product placement at games.

It was only a matter of time once sport becomes a commodity for an University to simply give up all pretension that college sports is anything other than a retail business. The University of Michigan, a proud academic institution, fallen on hard sports times, hired David Brandon the CEO of Domino's Pizza to run their athletic department.

Now the University can utilize all the techniques of selling pizza to sell their football and basketball (and hockey since this is Michigan) programs. Brandon actually did some fun commercials, and one thing Dominoes has attempted lately is running commercials that admit their short comings and turn this into challenges to improve quality.

Well he has his hands cut out at Michigan given the festering Rich Rodriguez football mess, the lingering scandals and mediocre basketball teams of recent years. And will somebody figure out how to beat Ohio State, I mean, come on! The once proud Michigan brand, much like Domino's, has fallen on hard times. Maybe a brand expert and pizza seller is what the program needed.

The other interesting issue is how this appointment highlights a harsh and enduring schism between the academic and athletic cultures. At most universities the academic hue (leaving aside Business and Engineering schools) leans liberal and open, as one would expect for institutions dedicated to experimentation and expanding the bounds of knowledge. Brandon's hard right political views and putative political ambitions simply highlight this divide, after all this is the school where Bo Schlembechler coached and presided, but this cultural divide represents one more of the many divides across this shot gun wedding of academics and athletics. I must admit I'm flummoxed by having a supporter of teaching creationism as a senior administrator at a major academic bastion like Michigan.

To be fair, appointing a CEO who is taking an 80 percent salary cut and is doing the job out of love and passion, illuminates another trend. A number of college presidents have grown increasingly disenchanted with the professional pool of athletic directors and the career path many of them follow. The path itself is fraught with multiple role demands from fund raising, to hiring coaches, to managing complex physical plants to being a public spokesperson to managing crisis to actually paying attention to the academic welfare of student athletes. The job, like the university presidency, has become almost impossible. Many university presidents are looking outside the traditional pool of candidates, sometimes it works, sometimes it fails.

One of Brandon's true attractions is that his a a "Michigan man." This means a Bo Schlembechler clone, sort of. He is demanding, hires well and has a finely tuned sense of the integrity and trusteeship of the University (he served a a University trustee), This makes the appointment intriguing because it brings in an outsider who is also an insider. Michigan has gone this route before when President Lee Bollinger hired real estate mogul Bill Martin to serve as AD. Brandon's tenure will be engrossing as a portent of the future, a fascinating experiment and an ironic and sad commentary upon the state of big time college sports.

pictures courtesy of &and Domino's Pizza


  1. How do you take a 600% salary cut? Once you hit 100% salary cut you're at zero, no?

  2. Are you kidding me? Luckily for your flummaxation he won't be teaching anything - he'll be running an athletic department. Isn't the true hallmark of being "open" and "liberal" the ability to tolerant of views that might - gasp - be different than yours?

  3. The article's author states:
    "I must admit I'm flummoxed by having a supporter of teaching creationism as a senior administrator at a major academic bastion like Michigan."

    Perhaps his flummoxed condition can be lessened if he became more aware
    of how cutting edge science says "Yes" to the creation account and "No" to evolution. A few examples are appended:

    - Matter from explosions does not condense to form objects like galaxies

    - Molecules-to-man evolutionism violates the Law of Biogenesis: Life does not come from non-life.

    - The specific complexity of genetic information in the genome does not increase spontaneously. Therefore, there is no natural process whereby reptiles can turn into birds, land mammals into whales, or chimpanzees into human beings.
    . . .
    - Many worldwide natural processes indicate an age for the earth of 10,000 years or less. These include population kinetics, influx of radiocarbon into earth’s atmosphere, absence of meteorites from the geologic column, and decay of earth’s magnetic field.

    What Does The Catholic Church Teach about Origins?
    What Does Cutting-Edge Science Teach about Origins?

    See also:
    Genesis 1-11
    "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. ..."

  4. Susan,

    Thanks for pointing my math out to me. Several colleagues did the same. I was trying to play on words, but obviously bad math does not make good word play.