FLINT, Mich. — Following Thursday’s University Board of Regents meeting in Flint, the Athletic Department officially agreed to a set of policy recommendations made by the Central Student Government — namely slashing prices for football student season tickets. The 2015 season prices will be unveiled next week.
“Michigan Athletics looks forward to forging a strong relationship with Central Student Government,” Athletic Director Dave Brandon said in a statement Thursday night. “This is an important relationship to us, one that we need to repair, and one that will provide mutual support among all students.”
University athletics were at the center of discussion during the regents meeting. CSG President Bobby Dishell, a Public Policy senior, gave a presentation to the regents and said he negotiated numerous verbal agreements with the Athletic Department based on the results of a CSG survey distributed Oct. 10.
The survey, which aimed to assess student experience at Michigan football games and the student body’s relationship with the Athletic Department, closed Tuesday evening with a total of 5,208 responses — roughly 12 percent of the University student body.
“These past few weeks have been a troubling time for Michigan students,” Dishell said during his report to the regents. “Difficulty in regard to the football program, focused primarily within the Athletic Department’s administration, have made many students wary of the very thing that has united them with alumni, family and city residents for over a century.”
He added that current ticketing prices have caused a rift in students’ perception of the Athletic Department, and more concretely, in many students’ ability and willingness to physically attend games.
“In one word, students described the current program as disappointing, corporate, bad and embarrassing,” he said of the survey during his presentation. “Before coming to the University, students said the word they would have used to describe Michigan football was ‘tradition’.”
“The survey showed that we’ve reached a tipping point,” Dishell said after the meeting. “Students said no more. To notice that if you would have just barely over 10 percent of your over 12,000 student section buying tickets again … that’s not a pretty number.”
Subsequently, Dishell said he and Brandon had agreed on the reduction of football student season ticket prices (the recommendation is $150), the elimination of rental fees at athletics facilities for student organizations with charitable aims, the creation of new student advisory boards and regular student meetings with Brandon.
The Athletic Department confirmed these stipulations in its release Thursday night, adding its commitment to hold monthly meetings between Brandon and students to “address topics relating to all 31 teams and Michigan Athletics.”
The statement also established the initiative to work with the Big Ten to create a blackout weekend where Crisler Center will be available for MUSIC Matters in 2016. MUSIC Matters is a student organization that annually brings in an end-of-year concert performer, in addition to facilitating SpringFest, which spotlights the work of other student organizations and local talent.
Other recommendations in the report that were not verbally agreed upon with the Athletic Department included offering free concessions for students who attend the game on time and expanding the men’s basketball student section in the lower bowl.
Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R) expressed discontent with the survey’s rate of responses following Dishell’s presentation at the regents meeting and said 12 percent was not representative of the entire student body.
“I think (Dishell) is doing a good job of trying to work with the students and the administration and the Athletic Department,” Newman said in an interview after the meeting. “(But) I was disappointed that it represented only 12 percent of students.”
Dishell also responded to this concern after the meeting.
“Anyone who has done market research, anyone who has done statistical, social science surveys … 12 percent is an incredible response rate,” he said. “And we also saw that, on these surveys, when we looked at last year’s CSG surveys, the behaviors that came out of this response rate are reflective of the student population.”
Newman said it wasn’t clear who completed the survey — although the link was sent only to the student body and IP tracking prevented respondents from taking the survey more than once, it was technically possible for students to forward the email to others and have them respond, regardless of whether or not they currently attend the University.
Dishell later countered that, after having read through survey-takers’ responses to the open-ended questions, it was clear that the participants were current students.
For some administrators, students and regents, these policy changes were only the tip of the iceberg when examining internal issues with the Athletic Department.
University President Mark Schlissel opened the regents meeting with a prepared statement in which he touted the role of athletics in all facets of the University community. However, he also said the Athletic Department must reinvigorate its role in facilitating the safety of student athletes.
“We have a very passionate community that cares deeply about our wonderful athletic tradition as well as the sense of connectedness our programs have long provided for us,” he said. “I value that connection highly and want to preserve and enhance it.”
He then he addressed the muddled actions taken regarding sophomore quarterback Shane Morris, who was put back into the Sept. 27 football game against Minnesota shortly after likely sustaining a concussion.
“I was deeply disappointed in the department’s initial response in handling the situation,” Schlissel said. “We must be accountable for the facts with a response that is timely and takes responsibility for error. Without this we break trust with our stakeholders.”
Investigation of this mistake following the game yielded conflicting messages from Brandon and Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
Schlissel noted the University has made several policy changes since the Minnesota game, such as placing a trainer in the press box with instant replay access and two-way radio communication with medical staff on the sidelines, as well as reinforcing the practice of taking away the helmets of injured athletes.
He has also instructed the Athletic Department to conduct a full review of in-game player safety procedures. The review is being conducted by the department and findings and recommendations will be shared with the regents and public at appropriate times.
He said the University will need more extensive, long-term approaches to address additional issues.
“We work to establish the right balance between competitiveness, financial stability and the athletic traditions we hold dear,” Schlissel said.
Zeid El-Kilani, a Public Policy graduate student, spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting and said that all moves being taken to appease the student body — both with regard to safety and commercialization — fail to address the overarchingly negative atmosphere created by the Athletic Department administration.
El-Kilani authored the CSG petition to fire Brandon in the first week of October, which has since amassed more than 11,000 signatures.
Analysis conducted by The Michigan Daily two weeks ago revealed that the majority of these signatures were alumni, not current students.
“We are nauseated by the doublespeak, public relations gap, and outright contempt that emanate from the Athletic Department,” El-Kilani said during his speaking time. “It is clear that change is necessary. That is why I, and more than 11,000 other students and alumni, respectfully request the University relieve Mr. Brandon of his duties as Athletic Director.”
Despite some media speculation, Brandon’s job security was not a topic of conversation at the regents meeting. El-Kilani said there were “underlying cultural issues” which would not be addressed by the current policy changes at play.
Even if Brandon’s job had been discussed, firing power ultimately lies with Schlissel. Otherwise, the regents’ only role in personnel oversight is selecting the University president.
“I think (the Athletic Department) sees its role as overseer of the whole Michigan brand, including everything to do with how the public perceives our University,” El-Kilani said. “But in reality, they’re a tool for fostering community on campus, engaging our students and alumni and bringing us all together. But I think they’ve lost track of that.”
Regent Mark Bernstein (D) alluded to this issue in conversations with the media after the meeting came to a close.
He said “the board is working in partnership with our president to make a thoughtful, deliberate, responsible decision,” and added that, “this personnel matter is a delicate matter that is important to discuss with our president.”
This story has been updated to include additional context, interviews with Regents Mark Bernstein and Andrea Fischer Newman and a statement from Athletic Director Dave Brandon.