At 5:50 p.m. Tuesday, the Diag looked no different than it does on any other school day. By 6:15 p.m., it was flooded by hundreds of students calling for the removal of Athletic Director David Brandon after the department’s widely criticized response to sophomore quarterback Shane Morris’ concussion in Saturday’s football game against Minnesota.
Initiated by a comment on the MGoBlog.com website, some students carried homemade signs and vied for camera time, while others were content to stand in the crowd in solidarity with their classmates. Some scrawled “Fire Brandon” on a piece of cardboard or notebook paper before heading to the protest, while others found more creative ways to voice their dissatisfaction with the current athletic climate.
One student carried two bottles of Coca-Cola in addition to a sign reading “Buy two cokes, get a new AD,” in reference to a controversial promotional event that resulted in non-student football tickets for last week’s game against Minnesota being sold at an effective 98-percent discount.
Business senior Ryan Graham penned a sign that read, “The Brand, The Brand, The Brand is not The Way.”
Graham said Michigan football coach Brady Hoke’s failure to remove Morris from play after he displayed concussion-like symptoms was the “last offense in a long line of transgressions,” committed by the Athletic Department in recent years.
“Dave Brandon should not retain his position as Athletic Director at this University,” Graham said, citing increased student ticket prices, a disappointing home schedule and poor team performance among his grievances.
Students could be heard organizing chants among the group, with “Fire Brandon,” being the most popular followed up by “Fire Hoke,” “Down with Dave” and “Protect our Players,” among other sentiments. Other times, the atmosphere seemed relatively light, with students poking fun at the administration and wondering aloud who they’d prefer as a replacement coach.
At around 7 p.m., several students convinced the group to march to the nearby University President’s residence on South University Avenue. Just before the protest was scheduled to begin, Schlissel released a statement addressing the decisions made in the aftermath of Morris’ injury, which called for a review of the Athletic Department’s safety procedures.
“As the leader of our University community, I want to express my extreme disappointment in the events surrounding the handling of an on-field injury to one of our football players, Shane Morris,” the statement read. “The health and safety of our entire student community, including all of our student-athletes, is my most important responsibility as university president.”
Neither Schlissel nor any other University administrators were present at the protest.
LSA junior Audrey Cords said she decided to come to the protest because she’s completely dissatisfied with her recent football experience.
“For the past two years, Dave Brandon has been treating students terribly,” she said. “People say that only students from wealthy families go to games anymore, and I had to pay $295 to see a crappy football schedule and results. It’s not the Michigan football I grew up with, I’ve been coming to games since I was the age of three and now that I’m a student, I should be enjoying it more than ever and it’s been the worst experience.”
She added that in addition to the lackluster home schedule, she finds it hard to get excited about football Saturdays when the team has a reputation for not performing well. She said the current situation leaves little time for improvement, and that the only solution is to replace Brandon and Hoke.
“I think that we need a coaching staff that’s actually going to get players out there who are actually going to get results. We’ve been losing game after game and the playing is terrible,” she said. “Even those games where we’re losing and then have a comeback are gone, so I definitely think we need a new coach and a new athletic director.”
Cords emphasized that coming to University football games is a family tradition she’s grown up with and not ready to give up.
“It’s not just football,” she said.
Cords said she was proud to participate in the protest, but wishes it had been a little more organized from the beginning.
“I liked how we walked to the president’s house, I think that’s very symbolic even though he’s not here,” she said. “At first I really didn’t know what to expect, but we had helicopters, we had cameras, we had news, and I feel like people heard us.”
Business graduate student Nathan Falstad joined the protest after seeing news crews and helicopters occupying the campus area.
“It’s easy to be down when we’re not doing well, and most people are frustrated with Dave Brandon,” he said. “He hasn’t done a great job and he’s upset a lot of people, from alumni and season ticket holders to students with raising the prices.”
He agreed that even if Brandon comes forward or develops a plan to turn the program around, it might be time to look at a new Athletic Director.
“Especially because we have a new president now, I think it might be more likely that it’ll happen,” he said.
The protest was even large — and loud enough — to attract the attention of students who don’t consider themselves big sports fans. Some students, like LSA freshman Jimmy Sorrells, were not completely familiar with the protest’s aims, but still joined the rally. He said he wasn’t disappointed.
“I didn’t know much about Dave Brandon because I just became a Michigan fan this year, but I’m disappointed with the team too and can see why people are mad,” he said. “We’re 2-3 and only getting worse.”