The alternate uniform craze is nothing new to college football, in fact, it’s been around and prevalent for nearly ten years due to manufacturers Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour giving the nation’s finest football institutions new duds to help wow recruits and peddle more product. For a long time, I thought Michigan was immune to this fad, but come 2011, the alternate uniforms came. The ones worn in the first night game, Under The Lights 1 vs Notre Dame, were technically a “faux-back,” as in they had vintage roots from Michigan’s long, vaunted history. The team then would unleash four more sets of alternates by the end of the 2012-13 season. Michigan’s records when they eschew the traditional maize and blue or away uniform for the alternate unis? A very pedestrian 2-3, with wins vs Notre Dame during the first night game and in the Sugar Bowl vs Virginia Tech in 2012. The three losses were more notable – at Michigan State in 2011 by 14, in the Cowboys Classic vs Alabama by 27, and the heartbreaker to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl by 5. Personally, I would think that is the unseen football gods telling Adidas to stop screwing with tradition, but maybe that’s just me.
My question isn’t so much why make these uniforms, but why provide such egregious examples? The bright yellow numbers on the Outback Bowl uniform were near unreadable by the ESPN broadcast crew under the Tampa sunlight. Every person that owns a Cowboys Classic throwback now has an 80 dollar shirt that reminds them of the a**kicking Alabama laid down on Michigan. As long as fans keep purchasing them and players like them, Adidas and Michigan will keep churning out these atrocities to human eyes. Look at the new one – Michigan has never, and I mean NEVER worn anything but yellow pants at home, and that was long rumored to be the one tradition that would not be touched, but low and behold, there they are. Michigan rolling out in monochrome navy doing their best imitation of West Virginia (I thought Rich Rodriguez was fired three years ago?). The striped reflective numbers are another issue but had this been paired with yellow pants, I wouldn’t mind as much. I am not trying to sound like a crotchety old fan here, but Michigan has the best duds in college football in my opinion, and they keep being touched by those meddling kids at Adidas. What’s next? An all maize get up for Under The Lights IV? (Adidas, if you are reading this, don’t you dare even fathom that idea)
There is one constant with alternate uniforms, new student ticket policies, a different gameday experience, and general unrest among the fan base, and that my friends is Michigan athletics under the reign of former Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon. As it’s been evidenced before, I am not the biggest fan of DB, but these uniforms are the final straw in what has already been a miserable off season leading up to what could be another lackluster Michigan football season. Now all the blame cannot fall on Brandon, Chief Marketing Officer Hunter Lochmann and the Michigan staff; part of it is the overall erosion of college football’s historical traditions in the name of the almighty dollar. The schools don’t run college sports anymore, the TV contracts, uniform suppliers and corporations run college football – but that is another rant in itself. The key difference in Michigan football is due to the the team’s overall decline and the use of constant new gimmicks that try to hide the fact the team is losing it’s vaunted fan base gradually has only been amplified under Brandon’s reign. I have been to every Michigan home game since the 2003 season and I have seen the stadium transform for the better, but the gameday experience transform for the worse.
The Seven Nation Army effect
If you have a pulse, you most likely have heard the song ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes at a sporting event (if not, click the video above). It is probably the most prevalent chant in all of sports with it’s easy to follow riff. It also was the song that Michigan “adopted” (read: copied) from Penn State starting around the 2011 season. This song is a signifier of the Dave Brandon era at Michigan, a time where it seems Michigan games are feeling more like Pro Football games in terms of atmosphere. One of the most exciting parts of gameday is watching the Marching Band take the field and move across the field in the shape of the Block M to the tune of ‘The Victors’. Instead, Michigan fans are now treated to the piped in sounds of songs like ‘Till I Collapse’ by Eminem, Metallica, and other pump up anthems one might hear more at an NFL game than in college football. In 2011, Muskegon rock outfit Pop Evil even coined a new anthem ‘In The Big House’ which was anointed Michigan’s pro wrestling entrance music by MGoBlog. Thankfully, it was quickly retired after the 2011 season. I think everything is fine in moderation, but even I have noticed that in the last few years, I hear far less of the marching band than one should at a college football game. In addition to the piped in music, fans are bombarded with ads on the video boards while they await TV timeouts to be done and play to resume. Being a soccer fan and used to watching a sport that has ZERO stoppages in play for commercials, this has begun to grind my gears even more as of late.
Then there was Firework-gate 2014: The Athletic Department submitted a proposal to the University Board of Regents to set off fireworks after the Miami of Ohio game on September 13 this year and during the Penn State night game on October 11. The University Board of Regents usually holds meetings behind closed doors, but in this instance, publicly shot down Brandon by a vote of 5-2. Regent Mark Bernstein said that Michigan games weren’t missing out due to a “lack of fireworks.” This also so happened to be the first time Brandon had attended a regents meeting under the reign of new University President Mark Schlissel. While not holding a background in sports, Schlissel did not hire Brandon, and much like when a new General Manager comes in and there is a lame duck coach, there is always a possibility that job is under evaluation. I for one, am interested to see the dynamic between Brandon and Schlissel since it seemed former University President Mary Sue Coleman would often roll over for Brandon’s many requests and implementations over the last four years of her presidency.
Brandon and co. claim these gimmicks are supposed to “enhance” the gameday experience when really, football is a simple sport – good games draw in fans, as do the sounds of the marching bands and being part of the largest crowd watching a football game anywhere in the country. What draws crowds into this, is winning football but it seems the AD has overlooked this and is trying to find ways to keep an increasingly annoyed Michigan fan base coming to the stadium for seven Saturdays a year. It may take another bad football season, it may take the season ticket waiting list drying up, but at some point, the suits inside Weidenbach Hall need to recognize the real problem: Michigan isn’t very good at football anymore, nor have they been for the better part of the last ten years barring a few surprise seasons.
The Blatant Disregard for the Student Body
College kids can be crazy, indecisive, irresponsible, and a whole bunch of other adjectives I cannot write about in a professional manner (I should know). At tailgates on Saturday mornings in the fall, the campus is an absolute zoo as everyone gets ready to watch the Wolverines take on their foe du jour. However, something changed recently – the on field product suffered, but the student attendance did not at the turn of the decade after the 3-9 and 5-7 campaigns of 2008 and 2009. Now though, things have changed for the worse, As of June 6, the Michigan Athletic Department announced that student season ticket holders went from 21,000 in 2012 to a mere 13,000 as of this year. That reflects a growing trend in college football that student attendance is declining due to factors like lack of cell phone reception and ability to sit with friends. As I wrote about last year, the change to a General Admission policy was not well received, and even the revised policy this year doesn’t help the fact the on field product is pretty average compared to ten years ago. The Akron game last year was evidence that the student malaise had reached a breaking point, and that even the lure of free donuts could not convince them to watch Michigan supposedly squash another MAC team at Noon (of course, that wasn’t the case). There also is the option that students can save $300 dollars by going and tailgating with friends and then going to a friend’s house or a bar and watch the game on television. While it is true there isn’t a bad seat in The Big House, there also is overpriced food, a lack of space, being forced to stand for three hours if in the student section, and a lack of access to beer. That last one is oddly significant, as it can resemble a scene from ‘Saving Private Ryan’ at half time when the student section’s collective hangover kicks in, especially if it isn’t an exciting game. Even with promises that cell phone coverage will be improved (it hasn’t) and a revised student seating policy that rewards game attendance for future seasons. The current student body felt jilted last season, and showed that by refusing to pay hundreds of dollars for the worst Michigan home football schedule in recent memory. It cannot be said enough: the current strategy of “Piss off the future alumni while they are in school” with last year’s GA debacle and the basketball ticket policy is how the school could find itself in trouble when current Michigan students go on to be successful, and refuse to be boosters or buy season tickets. Remember: College Football is for the students, just like Wu-Tang is for the children.
The Hand That Controls The Puppets
When Brady Hoke was hired to Michigan, even I was fairly optimistic about the former Defensive Line coach coming in and being the right man for the job. Winning the Sugar Bowl in 2011-12 with Rich Rodriguez’s players certainly bought him some time and good will amongst the fan base. Only two and a half seasons on from that game, and I want the man fired as soon as possible, and I am not alone in that sentiment. Hoke’s quirks originally were fun – he was a rah rah type coach who fires up the players, but as the pendulum swung the other way last season – he, along with offensive coordinator Al Borges, became the scapegoats among fans. His lack of wearing a headset being the most notable. As I look at Hoke’s tenure off the field (since as my former professor John Bacon said, Sports do not exist in a vacuum). The key fact of the matter is, Hoke is someone the boosters love, a gladhander who represents the concept of “A Michigan Man” a term that should have died with Bo Schembechler (may he rest). “A Michigan Man” is an illusive set of standards that the football coach must live up to, the irony being, Bo, the original Michigan man himself, came to Ann Arbor via archival Ohio State after serving on Woody Hayes’ staff. Back to Hoke, he was Brandon’s first hire as coach, but let’s all be honest, with a competent defensive coordinator, Rich Rodriguez could have coached that 2011 Michigan team to a 9-4, 10-3 record and everyone would have begun to forgive him for the horror shows of 2008/2009. The last thing a proud man such as Brandon wants to do is admit he made the wrong hire, but here is a blip on the radar: Doug Nussmeier’s hiring this past winter. Michigan getting Nussmeier from Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama was a coup and was well received by fans and pundits alike. Nussmeier’s introductory press conference was held in January; Offensive coordinators don’t get introductory press conferences. Anyone could smell something was fishy at Schembechler Hall behind closed doors: Nussmeier will be the next head coach of Michigan football if Hoke cannot turn it around this year or the next. There is only so much fundraising and memorable press conferences Hoke can go through before the band aid is ripped off – the man is not a good coach. He hasn’t properly developed talent, and is not very good with in game adjustments. He doesn’t even know what is going on half the game since he has an assistant yelling to him the substitutions and play calls he would normally hear through his headset, something 99.9% of other coaches in the country wear. Perhaps Michigan can rebuild under Nussmeier, but it certainly has been a blow to Brandon that Hoke has not panned out as he expected in terms of on field results.
The Demise of Dollar Dave? Only time will tell
For the first time this year, I come into football season not with hope, but with just a meh feeling. I cannot recall the last time I felt this way, but with a bad schedule and a lack of faith in the team, it’s what I’ve been led to. Michigan’s premier home game this season is Penn State – how delightfully pathetic. The rest of the home schedule shapes up as Appalachian State (AGAIN) Miami (OH), Utah, Minnesota, Indiana and Maryland. With the Big Ten’s expansion and realignment the schedule became diluted, but no one decided to raise a red flag to the schedule making boffins that Michigan now had to play away at Michigan State AND Ohio State every other year? This is Michigan fergodsakes, someone missed their chance to pick up the phone to call Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney and change such a miserable error. With this, Michigan’s conference schedule every other year, in terms of home games, will be very blah except when they rotationally play Wisconsin, Iowa or perhaps Nebraska. With such a tough road to the Big Ten Title game this season, the pressure is on Hoke and the players to deliver results to the standards of having the most wins all time in college football history. Let’s say everything falls apart and somehow, Michigan is going into the final weeks of the season at 5-5 (doubtful but possible). If that happens, I predict the 238 game consecutive attendance streak of 100,000+ fans will be broken vs Maryland. It sounds unfathomable, as Michigan has drawn at least 100k fans every game since November 8, 1975, but I think that the fans are so fed up with how the program is valuing the dollar over winning (or so it seems) that this may be the breaking point. Even as of last season, the secondhand ticket market has been drying up, students use to be able to fetch nearly $100 dollars for big end of season games; last year vs Ohio State, kids were selling tickets on the morning of the game for under face value just to make some beer money. If that streak breaks, the fingers will be pointed at Dollar Dave, the man who allowed Michigan’s “Brand” (I hate that word) to overtake the importance of winning Big Ten Championships and challenging for National Titles.
In a few Saturdays, I will attend my 79th straight Michigan football home game, but the question is, will the on-field product be enough to keep me going? As frequent readers know, I am a diehard Michigan fan and that will never change, but I swear if I hear Seven Nation Army on a drive in the third quarter of that Indiana game in November while Michigan sits at 5-3 looking at another mediocre bowl game, I will walk up the stairs, out of the stadium, and not look back until some major changes are made in this program both on and off the field.