The Sports Business Journal is getting ready to hand out its annual Sports Business Awards (why these can't be called the "Sporties" or the "Bizzies" is just beyond me, but that's an issue for another day), and the Big Ten has made its presence known.
In the Athletic Director of the Year category, two of the five finalists nominated are Big Ten ADs. In fact, they're not too far from each other. Michigan AD Dave Brandon and Michigan State AD Mark Hollis were both cited by the SBJ.
The Big Ten is the only conference with two ADs nominated; the other three entrants are from Arkansas, Baylor and the Big East.
Brandon was hailed for his diversification of the Michigan fan experience, bringing night games and hockey games to Michigan Stadium and embracing the alternate uniform as a means of generating excitement and apparel revenue. His hiring of instant success Brady Hoke and the Wolverines' resurgence in basketball certainly don't hurt matters either.
Meanwhile, Hollis has overseen arguably the most unparalleled growth in Big Ten football prominence of the last decade at Michigan State. The Spartans, under head coach Mark Dantonio, have reached double-digit wins in two consecutive years after only two such seasons in the program's entire history. The Spartans were three points away from reaching the Rose Bowl for the first time in almost 25 years in 2011; it would have been just the second trip since 1965.
Now, a little real talk: Arkansas AD Jeff Long probably deserves this award, as no single act by any nominated athletic director comes close to Long's impassioned and principled firing of Bobby Petrino. Long pulled no punches and didn't obfuscate on matters that could have been seen as potential embarrassments to the University of Arkansas and its athletic department.
Granted, it's not difficult to point out moral failings in Petrino's conduct. But speculation had been persisting that perhaps Petrino would be able to keep his job after the fateful crash and that Petrino's coaching successes could prove too valuable for Long to get rid of. Long, obviously, had other ideas.
Past that, though, it's extremely difficult to choose a better AD between Hollis and Brandon—especially based on the health of both college football programs relative to when their current coaches were hired. If either coach had said at his hiring that he thought he'd be bringing in 11 wins by 2011, there would have been an extreme level of skepticism from all observers. But both have made it happen, and that's a testament to the athletic departments that Hollis and Brandon are leading.