Tradition and money—lots of money—make Michigan football what it is today.
Despite the six-year lull that’s blanketed the program since the departure of former coach Lloyd Carr, the Wolverines remain near the top of college football’s pecking order, coming in at No. 5 on a 2013 list of wealthiest programs.
According to the financial gurus at Forbes, the Maize and Blue is worth an astonishing $104 million, with $81 million of that coming by way of TV revenue. Throw in a $54 million profit, per Forbes, and one of America’s highest-paid coaches in Brady Hoke, and you have big business, not just football.
Hurting for cash?
The Wolverines certainly benefit from being a part of the Big Ten, a financial giant. With first-class facilities across the board, athletes who play for Hoke have access to the finer things on a regular basis—top-notch weight rooms, practice fields and study areas.
Does the ceremonial name change cheapen the title?
Generations of committed players and coaches have ensured those fortunes for Team 135, 136, 137…and beyond.
How do you place a dollar value on all of that? Well, for Forbes, it was easy—just add up the numbers. But placing such value on a title?
Unfortunately, that’s now the case. Michigan has essentially raffled off one of the most coveted titles in all of sports.
Thanks to a “leadership endowment” from the J. Ira and Nicki Harris family, the head football coach at Michigan will now be affectionately known as the "J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Football Coach," per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com.
Cost of the gift?
And although the endowment’s geared toward athletics, the title change doesn’t sit well with Butch Woolfolk, the Wolverines’ No. 6 career rusher and a certified, blue-blooded Bo-era superstar.
“The coaching title shouldn’t be for sale,” he said. “Michigan isn’t for sale. … Name the practice field after them (the Harris family) or something…”
At the end of the day, Michigan’s football coach will always be Michigan’s football coach. The name swap was a mere formality.
“(Formal name) It’s a little cute thing that may last for a few more months, but that’s it,” Woolfolk said.
In the grand scheme of things, the additional $10 million is a small slice of the pie in Brandon's budget.
But look at it in a different light: The one-time Harris endowment is essentially equal to about 10 percent of the Wolverines' yearly TV money, per Forbes’ statistics.
In theory, the Harris payoff could take care of a large chunk of Hoke’s salary. In 2011, he signed a six-year deal with the program, giving him $3.25 million annually along with bonuses.
Sure, the Harris endowment would help offset the costs. But sacrificing sanctity and tradition by attaching a pseudo sponsor to the role that Bo Schembechler once had seems ludicrous.
|Team Value||TV Revenue||Profit||Hoke's Salary||Harris Endowment|
|$104M||$81M||$54M||$3.25M (plus bonuses)||$10M|
Forbes: UM program value; Harris endowment: MLive; Hoke salary: USA Today
Big Deal but Not Really
At best, the Harris endowment will do what it’s intended to do, and that’s to throw a few extra bucks to the athletic department.
The Harris family obviously thinks highly of Hoke and Wolverines football, otherwise it wouldn’t have forked over Scrooge McDuck’s bank vault and attached its name to Hoke’s job title.
Players and coaches will all but certainly enjoy the benefits that come with such a monetary boost.
At worst, the endowment served as an opportunity for Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics Dave Brandon to grab stacks of money under the ruse of his program’s tax-free status.
Michigan isn’t the only school in the Big Ten that has sold an official title, just look to Evanston, Ill., for proof of that, per MGoBlog:
Northwestern University trustee Christopher Combe and his wife Courtney will now be the namesakes of Athletic Director Jim Phillips' job after giving a $16 million gift to the school, NU officials announced today. Ten million dollars of that endowment will fund the position, which will officially be known as the "Chris and Courtney Combe Vice President for Athletics and Recreation," and will go toward "seed(ing) important projects and address new opportunities."
Northwestern isn’t a public university; it survives from private funding and TV revenue. As a public institution, Michigan gets loads of money from everywhere. It’s easier to justify the Wildcats’ decision to sell titles than it is for the Wolverines.
The following tweets only lend to the anti-name change argument.
Rick Freeman and Dave Hogg of the Associated Press recently had fun with the alteration of Hoke's job title:
@Stareagle "Well, we just didn't execute," Michigan J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Football Coach Brady Hoke said after the loss.— Rick Freeman (@RWFreeman) February 18, 2014
Fox Sports 1 personality Ryan Field wasn't a fan, either:
One word to describe $10 million endowment to change Brady Hoke's title to "J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Football Coach" -- Terrible— Ryan Field (@RyanFieldFS1) February 18, 2014
Detroit radio personality Jeff Moss also contributed to the discussion:
I cannot wait to find out who the next J. Ira and Nicky Harris Family Head Coach of Michigan will be after Brady Hoke gets fired this year.— Jeff Moss (@JeffMossDSR) February 20, 2014
What Would Bo Do?
In a statement released by the Michigan athletic department, via MLive, Hoke said the following about taking the Harris name:
I am honored to have my name and title as Michigan head football coach associated with Ira and Nicki. The Harris family has been incredibly generous to Michigan Athletics. Beginning with Bo, they established meaningful relationships with members of our Michigan football coaching tree and I am honored to be one of them.
Hoke referenced the Harris' connection to Bo, which runs decades deep. However, the legendary Michigan coach probably wouldn't have sold his job title, regardless of circumstances.
"Absolutely not," Woolfolk said. "He'd never do such a thing."
Quotes from Butch Woolfolk were obtained firsthand during a phone conversation/podcast interview on Feb. 18, 2014.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.