On one side is athletic director David Brandon, who has been nationally lauded for his business acumen and overseeing the transformation of the University of Michigan's athletic department.
On the other is the Michigan Board of Regents, who thus far have been willing accomplices to Brandon’s dramatic reinvention of Michigan football tradition.
The gap between the two sides became apparent last week when the regents rejected a request from the athletic department to have fireworks at two games this season. Regent Mark Bernstein’s comments reported by The Detroit News echo the sentiment of many fans—that Brandon’s attempt to make every game an event is negatively impacting the distinctive nature of the Michigan game-day experience.
“We are not Comerica Park, Disney World or a circus…I love Michigan football for what it is...and for what it is not. It remains and should be an experience, a place that resists the excesses of our culture; intentionally simple. The fireworks should be on the field, not above it.”
Caught in the middle is Brady Hoke, who is just trying to win football games and deliver a Big Ten title. Hoke has wisely stayed out of the fray, but the retirement of former University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman has changed the equation for the athletic department. Hoke can bring these two sides back together if his team can unleash some offensive fireworks when the season begins.
Fans will return to Michigan Stadium if Hoke’s offseason changes bear fruit. Offensive players are raving about new coach Doug Nussmeier and fans can’t wait to see top recruit Jabrill Peppers hit the field.
Warming up on the sidelines is new Michigan president Mark Schlissel, a scientist and former Ivy League administrator who seems a little puzzled that his new job began with questions about whether he supported fireworks during a football game.
Schlissel shared how athletics fit into his overall vision of Michigan with Melanie Maxwell on MLIVE.COM:
What I want to be sure of is that athletics exist in an appropriate balance with everything else the university does. Athletics isn't part of the mission statement of the university. We're an academic institution, so I want to work on the appropriate balance between athletics and academics.
For years, Brandon has been wildly successful at filling the coffers of the athletic department.
But this season a combination of factors has the athletic department scrambling to fill Michigan Stadium for its home opener. Overall enthusiasm has been dampened by last season’s 7-6 record, a lackluster slate of home games and a steady rise in ticket prices.
Many fans were disappointed when Hoke was hired to replace Rich Rodriguez, but Brandon has been steadfast in his support. Now Brandon faces scrutiny from a new boss and the regents, who need to approve any future initiatives.
It's time for Hoke to justify Brandon’s support. Brandon has provided lavish facilities for the football program and given Hoke the resources to hire top coaches for his staff.
If Michigan stumbles out the gate and attendance falters, Hoke won’t be the only one on the hot seat.
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.