The Politics of Shopping: A Great Bargain? A Raw Deal? You Decide.
I want to start with sports writer Joe Lapointe, who wrote a great piece about the comic opera that has been Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon and the school’s football diva/coach RichRod. Lapointe writes:
When David Brandon ran the Domino’s Pizza business from Ann Arbor, Mich., the product deteriorated so much that the company tried to turn its negatives into positives.
In television commercials, it admitted its crust chewed like cardboard and its sauce tasted like ketchup. Late in Brandon’s watch, Domino’s vowed to improve the product that had declined while he was boss. Brandon is now the rookie athletic director at the University of Michigan — a school with a lot of dough and plenty of crust — and he is facing a similar crisis in his historically prestigious football program. Lately, it’s gotten kind of cheesy.
It’s just the kind of pin-to-the-over-inflated-balloon kind of writing that Michigan’s football program and its Athletic Director deserve.
David Brandon didn’t hire the over-compensated, under-performing Rich Rodriguez, but he could have fired him much sooner, maybe shortly after players such as Justin Boren (who helped OSU kick Michigan’s butt this year as a player for Ohio State, where he transferred) started leaving the team and whispering about NCAA rule infractions. Now, Brandon’s plan to “improve the product,” as it were, involves, well, paying the football coach more money. As people selling over-priced products are always quick to point out, things that cost the most must be the best.
Joe Lapointe writes:
Noting that Michigan has traditionally paid its coaches at around the middle rate of their profession’s pay scale, Brandon said that should change. “There’s a market out there,” he said. “You pay for value. My boss and my boss’s bosses understand that concept.”
“You pay for value?” That’s right up there with George Bush’s famous, “Brownie is doin’ one heckuva job.” Has David Brandon ever shopped for anything other than over-priced college football coaches and stadium food? Value for one’s money means that one pays less for an excellent product. Bo Schembechler comes to mind, as does my new dishwasher. My new dishwasher is not the $1,400 Bosch for sale at Sears. It’s the $500 Kenmore. Know why? I obsessively compared the two brands, zeroed in on models that were virtually identical, then compared prices, and read buyer reviews (on several sites). I also bought the extended warranty. Alas, college football coaches don’t come with those.
A couple of days ago, I read Detroit Free Press sports writer Mitch Albom’s piece titled, “Little went right in Rich Rodriguez’s run” Albom, in just about 800 words, served up a great piece of sports-writing. He gets right to the point:
In ugly, out ugly. Why wouldn’t Rich Rodriguez be fired? In three years, he didn’t win a single important game. He couldn’t coach defense. He got hit with NCAA violations. And he made a lot of people squirm when he talked — or, on occasion, swayed to a Josh Groban song.
There’s obviously a lot that’s going to be said on this subject, starting with the wet, hot, mess that was former Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin’s “negotiated” a contract with football coach Rich Rodriguez. Martin, another man who obviously doesn’t understand the definition of the word “value,” or the concept of “shopping,” “negotiated” a lop-sided contract that paid Rodriguez $2.5 million per year, and included a clause that required Michigan to pay should he be dismissed before the contract ended. Is the University of Michigan a non-profit public university supported by $300 million in state tax dollars, or Goldman Sachs? Evidently, Michigan’s previous Athletic Director was under the impression that there is little difference the two. U of M has money to burn except when city officials come asking. Why is that?
John Hieftje, Third Ward Council member Steve Kunselman, Second Ward Council member Tony Derezinski and Fourth Ward Council member Marcia Higgins, all work for U of M in various full-time/part-time capacities. In addition, they don’t have a collective spine between them when it comes to pressing for payments U of M for payments in lieu of taxes, payments for fire services, or payments for solid waste services, water and sewer that are commensurate with what the University uses. All four continue to vote merrily along on the Fuller Road Parking Garage project for U of M. Despite the fact that Kunselman and Higgins, as full-time employees, are held to a U of M code of conduct of conduct that requires all full-time U of M employees to act in the best interests of the University, both continue to vote on projects that benefit U of M.
Current Michigan Athletic Director, David Brandon, who’s no fool, could have summarily dismissed Rodriguez without paying out $2.5 million dollars had he fired the coach as a result of the recently imposed NCAA sanctions. Michigan had the contractual right to do that. However, the next question after Rodriguez was fired because of the sanctions would have been whether Brandon should lose his job over the scandal-ridden football program. When asked by the New York Times what he thought, Fielding Yost III told the paper the scandal was “really a disappointment” because “the football program has always been above reproach.”
Now, AD Brandon has suggested that the answer to Michigan football’s coaching woes is to pay more to the next football coach hired. This is like saying that money can buy you love. Money can buy you sex, and $226 million can buy you sex in a sky-box in your renovated football stadium, but someone needs to clue Dave Brandon in to the fact that Michigan is a state-supported school with a football program that is not self-supporting.
I won’t delude myself into thinking that Dr. Coleman has the cojones to put her sensibly shod foot down and tell Brandon that those are student-athletes, not NFL rookies. However, let’s call pass interference when we see it. Brandon, at the press conference called to address the dismissal of Rich Rodriguez, told those present that the college’s football program brings in the lion’s share of revenue to the Athletic Department. That’s true. It’s also true that U of M’s football program is sucking money right out of the university’s $1 billion dollar General Fund. For every dollar that goes to that coach whom Dave Brandon thinks needs to be paid more than $2.5 million dollars per year, is a dollar that won’t go to student instruction, which is the mission (last time I looked) of the public institution.
“You pay for value.” I’m betting the next football coach will earn $5 million dollars per year.
The city of Ann Arbor is terribly strapped for cash, partially because U of M doesn’t pay its way fully. However, the Ann Arbor City Council will probably never pressure U of M officials for payments in lieu of property taxes, payments for fire service, or payments for water, solid waste and sewer that are commensurate with the college’s usage. Why? In exchange for employing the academically unqualified Hieftje as a temporary lecturer and paying him exorbitantly, giving a part-time temporary job to his wife, by employing Tony Derezinski as a part-time lecturer, by having Kunselman and Higgins by the short hairs (a total expenditure of less than $200,000 per year in salaries and benefits), U of M has saved, perhaps, a quarter of a billion dollars since John Hieftje took office in 2000.
That, my fellow A2 politicos, is the definition of a great bargain. And a raw deal.
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