- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Alejandro Zúñiga, Managing Sports Editor
Published October 30, 2014
University Athletic Director Dave Brandon knows the students bring energy to Michigan Stadium.
When the football team bursts out of the tunnel, Brandon said to the Daily last Thursday, most of them look to the student section first. That’s why the Athletic Director was so disappointed when student-ticket sales plummeted this year, and that’s why he’s slashing prices for next season.
He wants the student section full again to support the Wolverines and improve the gameday experience. After all, the students matter. They start the most cheers; they get shown on TV the most; they make the most noise.
But at Homecoming on Saturday against Indiana, the students’ message won’t be one of unconditional support. In a protest deemed “White Out, Dave Out,” more than 2,200 people at the Big House will be wearing white T-shirts that support “The Team, The Team, The Team,” but call for the University to “#FireDaveBrandon.”
As Brandon has said, the student section gets noticed. And Saturday, many of its members will be making a concerted effort to convince University President Mark Schlissel that he should fire the embattled Athletic Director.
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Public policy senior Craig Kaplan isn’t the leader of Saturday’s protest, but he’s the movement’s most outspoken organizer.
He has helped a “very giving” donor, as Kaplan calls him, by facilitating the distribution of the T-shirts. Since he announced the plans to the Daily on Sunday, Kaplan said the response from students and alumni has been “higher than I expected, but just as high as I had hoped.” And it has been overwhelmingly positive.
Since Monday evening, Kaplan has received “hundreds” of e-mails backing the cause. Just two responses have been negative.
“This issue impacts people all over the board,” Kaplan said. “It’s been really nice to see an outpouring of support from so many people in so many different ways.”
The movement has become such a campus talking point that Kaplan has been recognized in classes by fellow students, guest lecturers and professors. Alumni from out of the state and out of the country have inquired how to get a shirt of their own.
“We want to make sure it’s a dynamic combination of students (wearing the shirts), and that it’s representative of the student body,” Kaplan said. “It’s a holistic issue, not just an issue that’s pertinent to one part of the student body.”
Personally, Kaplan said he feels Brandon must go because he undermines the efforts of Michigan’s coaches and athletes.
But Kaplan has also received notes of support citing reasons that range from the relatively insignificant, like being upset about the increase in piped-in music at Michigan Stadium, to the more serious, like the inaction and secrecy following former kicker Brendan Gibbons’ violation of the school’s sexual misconduct policy.
For some, the last straw came Tuesday, when MGoBlog.com published e-mails reportedly sent from Brandon to alumni that urged frustrated graduates to “find a new team to support” or to “quit drinking and go to bed.”
“It’s saddening that this person, who is a public figure, is having this kind of relationship with alumni,” Kaplan said. “No one wants to see your University portrayed in such a negative, really crass, crude, condescending way by someone who is a public figure and is really supposed to speak for the University.”
Four fraternities have already pledged to distribute the shirts to their members, Kaplan said. He expects to pass out another thousand Friday afternoon on the Diag. Then, he’ll bring the remaining T-shirts outside the student gates to Michigan Stadium on Saturday.
Kaplan says the donor who purchased the shirts isn’t the only one who has expressed discontent with Brandon. The goal Saturday is to prove that the students — the voice of the University — care enough to do something about it.
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Brandon notices the student section at home football games. He knows it has rarely been full this year.
The students, he said, have voiced their displeasure through their behavior, and he’s working to repair that relationship.
But if Saturday’s protest is executed properly, students will deliver Brandon, Schlissel, University administrators and a large TV audience a notice that the attempt to mend past actions isn’t enough.
And Kaplan said he believes that message will be hard to ignore during Saturday’s game.
“I have full faith that it’s going to be a very big event,” he said. “It’s really spreading incredibly well. Everyone’s excited for multiple different reasons. It makes me excited for Saturday.”
That it’s Homecoming excites Kaplan even further, because it means alumni returning for the weekend who have felt alienated by Brandon can join in “White Out, Dave Out.”
If all goes well, Kaplan said, you’ll see a full, energetic student section Saturday afternoon. But in addition to supporting the team, several thousand students will be equally as critical of the head of the Athletic Department.
“We don’t want to embarrass the University,” Kaplan said. “We’re doing this because we care about the University; it’s not like we have a vendetta against it. … What we’re saying is we, as a student body, we don’t believe that Dave Brandon is the best to be in this position. Actually, he’s harming.”