Last month while the Michigan basketball team was making another deep run in the NCAA tournament, quarterback Devin Gardner dismissed the suggestion that it had eclipsed the Wolverine football program.
“This is a football school—this is Michigan.”
For years, the Michigan hoops program has been in the shadow of football. Crisler Arena, now Crisler Center, once was one of the worst facilities on campus. Directly adjacent to Michigan Stadium, it stood in stark contrast to the largest college football stadiums in the country.
If the Big House was a gleaming icon celebrating the pageantry of college football, Crisler Arena was a throwback to the dingy, poorly lit gyms of high schools across country.
But now after a stunning $52 million upgrade, Crisler Center is an elite facility with features that rival many NBA arenas.
And most importantly, Michigan basketball under coach John Beilein has risen from the ashes, playing in the national championship game in 2013 and falling three points short from returning to the Final Four this season. Its stars leave early to enjoy pro riches while the team continues without missing a beat.
Michigan basketball is the team that simply reloads, while the football team has been rebuilding for nearly a decade.
But Gardner is correct that Michigan is still a football school.
A look at the Michigan athletic department budget put things in perspective.
According to an article by Kellie Woodhouse on mlive.com:
Football accounted for at least 57 percent of athletic department revenues in 2012-13, which totaled $144 million, according to Michigan budget documents provided to the Board of Regents. ... Football cost about $23 million to operate in 2012-13, meaning it fed more than $58 million into Michigan's other 30 varsity teams.
Despite not winning a Big Ten title since 2004 the football team remains the No. 1 source of revenue for the athletic department.
Which poses a problem for current head football coach Brady Hoke.
How long does he have to return Michigan football back to the ranks of the elite?
John Beilein had the luxury of rebuilding his program during the Rich Rodriguez era of Michigan football. The travails of the basketball program were a minor subplot compared to the drama occurring next door at Michigan Stadium.
Hoke has no such distraction.
Athletic director David Brandon came to Michigan with a solid track record of success in the business world along with his background as a former Michigan football player under legendary coach Bo Schembechler.
His major contribution has been leveraging the Michigan brand to increase revenues for the athletic department. Michigan’s mantra championed by Schembechler, “The Team, The Team, The Team,” has become the, “The Brand, The Brand, The Brand,” under Brandon.
So far Brandon has thrown his full support behind Hoke, but another disappointing football season may force him to reevaluate Hoke's status.
If Michigan football can't start competing for Big Ten titles, it’ll be bad for business and Brandon will need to intervene.
Last year’s disappointing 7-6 football finish didn’t help improve Michigan’s national reputation and stands in contrast to the revival of basketball under Beilein.
Hoke can’t allow Michigan to become primarily known for success in basketball—there’s too much money, not to mention his job, riding on Michigan’s gridiron performance.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.
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