Thursday, April 19, 2012

Penny pinching lunacy

In my professional career, I've worked for two companies, both of them magazine publishers, neither of which are run well. In four years since leaving college, I haven't--nor have any of my coworkers--been afforded a single salary raise. In fact, I took a paycut at my first job.

The first company I worked for had corporate offices in New York and investors. Every year, the business end of the company put together a financial portfolio that projected the company's earnings for its investors. Despite the fact that the company was firmly in the black--several millions of dollars every year--when it failed to reach those expectations, investors came looking for their share back. In an effort to limit those shortcomings, every employee in the company took a pay cut, budgets were slashed, and everyone was expected to do more with less. Many of these issues can be attributed to the economy and the industry--print media isn't an unsinkable ship?--but it still felt like a stupid way of doing business. Alas, that's just how business is done. My current employer doesn't deserve quite as much leniency. Budgets have been slashed to zero, employees have been laid off in favor of cheaper labor, and there are numerous ill-conceived initiatives intended to make the company money while denigrating the product, all in the name of saving a few dollars.


I try to stay out of the business end of Michigan athletics. It doesn't interest me and MGoBlog covers it better than I ever could. But when news came out that Dave Brandon has decided to keep the band in Ann Arbor for the football team's season opener against Alabama at the Jerry Dome in Dallas, I got pretty annoyed.

Brandon has caught a lot of flack from the Michigan blogging community. I'm not sure their sentiments are shared by the majority of the fanbase, but since we're the most vocal part of it, that's the opinion that sticks out. First it was piped-in music in the stadium. Then it was new jerseys. Then it was the hashtag on the field. I'm sure there are things that I'm missing, but none of them has bothered me.

Brandon's job is to make money for the athletic department. Ways to do that include alternate jerseys for special occasions and catering to the segment of the fanbase that really drives the athletic department (ie, those with money). If that means playing Neil Diamond during games or whatever other jock-rock tunes that people prefer, fine. That's not affecting the final product; it's changing it. I don't begrudge Brandon for doing his job, even if I don't really agree with him.

But there's a difference between making money and saving money, the latter of which is the bane of most companies (ask US car dealers who have been skimping on their products for decades). Making money typically requires new initiatives (eg, a night game against Notre Dame that you can make and sell commemorative jerseys for). Or catering to a fanbase that probably doesn't care whether or not the marching band is playing during every timeout because they're at the game to have fun, not to consume tradition.

But not bringing the band to the opener objectively diminishes the final product. The Victors is not something to be played through a stereo, unless its blasting out on State Street on an October Saturday morning and the faint sound of the real deal is echoing in the distance. If Alabama's band is there, the game goes from a pseudo-road game to a legitimate one. This is not good for your football team. This is not good for their season. With tickets already allotted for the band, the minor, one-time expense of sending them is not even a decision: they go, because they're part of the football team or perhaps more importantly for Brandon, they're part of the product.

This is a money saving concern on an epically stupid level. Brandon's much maligned "corporate takeover" of the athletic department has been a straw house until now. The athletic department is in the business of making money and that's what Brandon was doing--hand over fist. This is penny pinching lunacy that only those fearful of an investor's wrath would concoct. But for the Michigan athletic department, not sending your marching band to the team's highest profile game of the season is the exact thing that's going to send its investors up in arms.

Dave Brandon, you're smarter than this. Don't cut corners, even if it means making your significantly in-the-black revenue stream tick down incrementally.

Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 Spring Game thoughts

Angela J. Cesere |
I will try to have some more comprehensive thoughts once I can download a torrent of the game, but the spring game left a few impressions that I should probably write down.
  • Gardner. All the talk after the spring game focused on Devin Gardner's, shall we say, less that encouraging performance. After last year's spring game, I said...
    Devin, who has the size, still has little or no technique. Watching him fling a 40-yard pass from his off foot was the most Pryor-Armpunt thing I've ever seen him do. Unless the new staff can drastically improve his fundamentals, Gardner won't ever see significant playing time at Michigan, and that's disappointing.
    ...which is basically a carbon copy of what I'll say this year. Gardner's throwing motion is still unsustainable, which causes his accuracy to be inconsistent. He's not even reading the defenses particularly well. That interception: you can't make that throw. Gardner has done nothing to change my stance on his prospects: he will never see significant time at QB unless there's an injury. Next year, it's the Shane Morris Show.
  • Wide receiver. Holy smokes, Michigan desperately needs these. While most people are centering their concern on the offensive and defensive lines (and rightfully so, about which more later), wide receiver is nearly as barren as the linemen depth chart. If this game doesn't turn up the volume on the Gardner-to-WR chatter, nothing will. I didn't take note of everyone out there (did Roundtree even play in the game?), but regardless, Michigan has no one to catch passes that will threaten opposing defenses.
  • Offensive line. The first team offensive line looked fine, barring the two fumbled snaps, which are probably 50% on the quarterback, but beyond them, yikes. There is nothing there. If I can recall correctly, redshirt junior Erik Gunderson played a lot of right tackle in the game and reprised Mark Huyge's role in Spartans in the Backfield. Defensive linemen were routinely getting past the second unit, largely unabated. Pray for health because if not, this team is sunk.
  • Defensive line. Adequate. Totally adequate. Craig Roh looked good as the strongside end. Will Campbell was completely average. Otherwise, there was nothing particularly impressive or concerning about the defensive line. It won't be as good as last year, but it won't be a major liability this year (there's almost no way this prediction doesn't come back to bite me in the ass).
  • Secondary. The secondary looked pretty good actually. Greg Mattison seemed comfortable putting most of the secondary in man coverage throughout the spring game. Caveats about competition aside, the coverage down the field looked really solid, which will open things up for Mattison in the blitzing game.
  • Edge issues. The defense still showed some problems maintain edge responsibilities, which ugh, but fine. I'd like to see those things ironed out by now, but last year, the coaches recognize and addressed those issues quickly.
  • Bellomy. Russell Bellomy came in as the nominal #2 quarterback. Despite my desire to see Gardner move to wide receiver, I'm not sure I want Bellomy as Denard's backup. He showed good pocket presence and some ability to make plays, but he has a high school arm and only decent accuracy. He's not a quality backup yet.
  • Running backs. Thomas Rawls wins the annual Spring Game award for Most Impressive Player Likely to Spend the Season on the Bench. Rawls is a power runner that showed good vision and an ability to get upfield. This year still belongs to Fitz Toussaint, though. Rawls will be a good option when Toussaint needs a breather, but he doesn't offer much that Fitz doesn't already bring to the table. The biggest concern with Rawls isn't even about his play: I'm worried the coaches will try and revive the I-formation running game behind Rawls' shoulder pads. As we saw once again in the spring game, this team is ill-equipped to run from the I formation.

    In other running back news, Vincent Smith is still a better blocker than you. Hoorah for consistent third-down backs.
Overall, this was a pretty nothing performance. It's much more difficult to make broad, sweeping statements when the team isn't switching coaches or quarterbacks. The game probably induced more fears than it appeased concerns, but that's probably to be expected. In reality, it really just confirmed what we already knew: the defensive line will be functional, the offensive line is thin, Gardner isn't a quarterback, and the offense is going to rely far too heavily on Denard.

That's about all I can remember from a single viewing of the game. I don't know if I'm going to picture page anything from the game or not, but I might. Frankly, I don't remember seeing anything that was particularly noteworthy schematically, but if something caught your eye, let me know and I'll take a look. If other thoughts pop up throughout subsequent viewings, I'll try and bring them up.