Decision to fire Brandon lies with Schlissel

By Alexa Dettelbach, Senior Sports Editor
and Greg Garno, Managing Sports Editor
and Sam Gringlas, Senior News Editor
and Rachel Premack, Senior News Editor
Published October 2, 2014

The outcry calling for the firing of Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon has grown to possibly its largest in his tenure at the University after football coach Brady Hoke’s handling of sophomore quarterback Shane Morris’ “probable, mild concussion” Saturday.

There’s been frustration over his decision to exclude the marching band from traveling to Dallas when the Wolverines played Alabama. And his role in allowing the student section to switch to a general admission policy. There’s also his decision to approve sky writing over East Lansing and raising ticket prices not just for students, but also for other fans.

Students have criticized his department’s increasingly more expensive student ticket rates. Last year, the ticket prices were $40 per game, the second highest in college football, just behind the University of Oregon.

In April, the University was criticized for how officials handled the permanent separation of former Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons after he was found responsible for violating the University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy.

To many, it seems, the incident Saturday was the last straw.

Nearly 1,000 protesters calling for the Brandon’s termination gathered Tuesday on University President Mark Schlissel’s front lawn. Amid chants of “Fire Brandon” and “Down with Dave,” one student asked, “What power do we have here?”

The process of making a personnel change, whether it happens or not, rests solely upon the University’s president.

Presidential responsibility

In a statement to The Michigan Daily, Regent Kathy White (D), chair of the University’s Board of Regents, said the University’s president has direct responsibility over personnel decisions, not the regents.

“It is the President who has direct responsibility over the university’s operations, departments, and personnel,” she wrote.

The governing body’s only direct responsibility with personnel is selecting and evaluating the University’s president. The regents appointed University President Mark Schlissel last January after a lengthy search process.

White said the University’s president is tasked with managing the institution’s daily operations, whereas regents act as fiduciaries that set and approve policies for the institution as well as direct and approve major expenditures, financial management and large-scale initiatives.

Though the final decision to terminate a high-level official is not under the board’s jurisdiction, it does approve administrative appointments to many high-level leadership positions, as well as tenure-track faculty, within the University. At their meeting last April, the regents approved the University’s recommendation to appoint Andrew Martin to the position of LSA dean.

It’s still possible that Schlissel could solicit counsel from members of the board. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Schlissel can consult with the board on any issue and has already indicated he intends to involve the regents in a review of the University’s safety procedures related to student-athletes.

The regents are also responsible for completing an annual evaluation of the University President, which could include consideration of the president’s handling of personnel matters.

Fitzgerald said he has “no information” as to whether any personnel changes related to the incident are being considered.

Schlissel released a statement Tuesday evening calling for a review of safety procedures related to student-athletes and pledging to “take all necessary steps to make sure that occurs and to enforce the necessary accountability for our success in this regard.”

Contract agreements

Though Hoke took much of the initial heat after Saturday’s incident, subsequent uproar has been focused on Brandon. Some observers have alleged the Athletic Department was not transparent in its communications with the public following the controversy and have chosen to call for his termination.

Brandon’s 2012 contract extension details grounds for the agreement’s termination, both “with cause by University” and without.

The document, signed by former University President Mary Sue Coleman, stipulates Brandon’s term will last through June 30, 2018 with the potential for an additional, five-year term “upon mutual agreement of University and Director.”

Grounds for “termination with cause” includes the director’s failure to “perform in any material respect any of his duties or obligations under this Agreement,” conviction for felony or misdemeanor charges involving financial or moral impropriety or for intentional or major violations of any NCAA conference or University rule or regulation.

Brandon’s contract could also be terminated with cause through the broader category that the “conduct of the Director that offends against public decency or morality as shall be determined by the standards prevailing in the community, or any other conduct by the Director that materially and adversely affects the reputation or the assets of the University or one or more of its athletic programs.”

If terminated for these reasons or if the director resigns, he would receive any unpaid base salary through the date of termination.

However, if the University fires Brandon prior to July 1, 2016 without providing sufficient evidence for cause, he would be guaranteed payment of his remaining base salary and remaining deferred compensation of $3 million through the date of his termination.

Brandon currently earns a base salary of $900,000, but that number is slated to reach $1.05 million in the final year of his contract.

Michael Bloom is a clinical assistant professor of law at the University and in charge of the Law School’s Transactional Lab. He said morality clauses are common in sports contracts, whether with players, coaches or sponsorship agreements.

“It’s something that generally would say that the employer can terminate the contract in the event that the employee engages in immoral behavior,” Bloom said. “It might explain what immoral behavior means or stay broad and not get into the details.”

One prominent example of the usage of morality clauses is golfer Tiger Woods. His 2009 infidelity scandal led to several companies terminating sponsorship deals. The BBC reported in 2010 the termination was estimated to cost all parties involved in the Woods scandal around $12 billion.

Hoke’s contract also has a morality clause, which states he can be fired for cause if he “offends public decency or morality shall be determined by the standards prevailing in the community.”

Termination without cause means the Athletic Department would be required to pay Hoke $3 million, according to the contract. And termination with cause, which the morality clause allows, stipulates “all obligations of the University to make further payments and/or provide any other consideration under this Agreement … shall cease as of the date of termination.”

The Rich Rod case

At the University, there is recent precedent for terminating the contract of a head football coach.

Jan. 4, 2011, a recently hired Brandon terminated Rich Rodriguez as the head coach of the Michigan football team.

After Rodriguez finished the 2010 season with a 7-6 record, including a 52-14 loss in the Gator Bowl to Mississippi State, he ended his tenure in Ann Arbor with a 15-22 record. Most glaring of all, he never beat Michigan State or Ohio State.

In what could similarly transpire if the University terminates Brady Hoke’s contract, Michigan made the decision to buy out Rodriguez’s remaining three-year, $2.5-million contract. But the University’s reasons for doing so extended beyond the team’s performance on the field. The NCAA punished the University for practice times that exceeded the NCAA’s weekly allotment. Rodriguez was also caught lying about his team’s GPA after saying it was the highest in program history.

A problem to be solved

Brandon and Hoke apparently contradicted each other in a press conference Monday afternoon and a statement early Tuesday morning.

Now, it’s up to a president with little experience in Big Ten athletics since arriving to the University from Brown University in July. His largest decision thus far rests in his own hands.