Rally, petition target Michigan AD

ByDan Murphy ESPN logo
Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Students and fans flooded the front lawn of University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel's on-campus house Tuesday night, demanding the school get rid of athletic director Dave Brandon.

A few hundred protesters gathered at the school's nearby Diag -- a popular outdoor meeting place on campus -- at 6 p.m. and marched the short distance to the president's house a half-hour later. Craig Kaplan, an undergraduate senior, stood on the home's front steps and led chants with a bullhorn as the rally wound down shortly before 7 p.m.

"Michigan has a special place in my heart," said Kaplan, who played a role in organizing the protest. "The fact that it's been mismanaged like this hurts me deeply as a student, as a fan, just as a person that cares about this university. It makes me upset how students have been handled and how the culture at Michigan has changed."

The protest came in the wake of Brandon and Schlissel acknowledging that the athletic department made mistakes while dealing with quarterback Shane Morris' head injury during Saturday's 30-14 loss to Minnesota in Ann Arbor.

Brandon said a "serious lack of communication" on the Michigan sideline Saturday allowed Morris to return to the field after showing symptoms of a concussion. The incident and the way Brandon and his employees handled its aftermath have led to a large group of Michigan supporters to call for his ouster. More than 9,000 students, staff members and alumni have backed Brandon's removal in an online petition started by a graduate student Monday night.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, Schlissel asked the athletic department to provide a thorough review of the program's in-game player safety procedures to him and the university's board of regents. Brandon, who released his own statement early Tuesday morning, said the department would revise some of its policies to keep future breakdowns in communication from occurring.

"We did not get this right and for this I apologize to Shane, his family, his teammates, and the entire Michigan family," said Schlissel, who took over as the university's leader in July. "It is a critical lesson to us about how vigilant and disciplined we must always be to ensure student-athlete safety."

The bungling of Morris' injury and the reaction to it were only one complaint among many that protestors voiced Tuesday night. Students complained about new football ticket policies and prices instituted under Brandon. Alumni lamented what they perceive as Brandon prioritizing revenue over tradition. Zeid El-Kilani, the graduate student who started the online petition, said the overarching problem is that students and alumni don't feel Brandon and his department care about their concerns.

"Students have a voice," he said to the gathered crowd. "And the athletic department doesn't respect that voice."

The idea to protest gained steam on the message boards of the Wolverines fan site mgoblog.com. The site's founder, Brian Cook, also spoke briefly at the rally. He encouraged those in attendance to air their grievances Oct. 8 at a previously scheduled public forum with candidates for future board of regents positions.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said earlier Tuesday that Schlissel and the current regents had no plans to meet and discuss Brandon's job status. The eight-member board's next scheduled meeting is Oct. 16.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) asked the Big Ten Conference and commissioner Jim Delany to investigate the circumstances that led to Morris' return to the field. Pascrell is the co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force.

"Allowing a possibly concussed player to determine whether or not he is fit to return to play not only violates common sense, but is also an egregious violation of standard concussion protocol, including protocol set forth by the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference," Rep. Pascrell wrote in a letter to Delany. "I strongly urge you to investigate the circumstances surrounding Shane Morris's injury and the decision to return him to play. Additionally, I ask that you reexamine the protocols in place and determine what changes can be made to improve them. I also urge you to establish penalties for violations of concussion protocols. Every concussion is brain damage and must be diagnosed and treated by appropriate medical personnel, who prioritize players' health, safety, and well-being."

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday that he did not believe Morris had a concussion and that he would have practiced with the team Sunday night if not for a high ankle sprain sustained in the game.

Hoke said he had not spoken to Brandon about the incident as of Monday afternoon, which contradicts Brandon's claim that he met with everyone directly involved with Morris' care Sunday. Hoke said he has since talked to his boss but declined to provide more details about when that conversation occurred during a teleconference Tuesday afternoon.

"I think we all are working toward the same goal," Hoke said when asked about the current state of his relationship with Brandon. "We all want to win games and represent Michigan with the character and integrity that it deserves. We're very supportive of each other."

The crossed signals come at a bad time for Hoke and Brandon, who were both facing criticism for their job performance before Saturday's game. A botched Coca-Cola promotion earlier in the week drew the ire of many Michigan fans and former players who think Brandon is tainting the tradition of the football program.

Hoke is 2-3 this season -- his fourth at Michigan -- and has an overall record of 28-16 with the Wolverines.

The sideline breakdown in communication that allowed Morris to re-enter Saturday's game raised questions about Hoke's integrity and ability to protect his players.

"There should be some criticism when we talk about the performance. That's me and coaching and I understand that, but when your integrity and character is attacked, I think that is really unwarranted," Hoke said Monday afternoon.

During Monday's news conference, Hoke said the university would provide a more detailed account of Morris' injury from the team's medical staff. That never came. Instead, Brandon issued his apology and explanation more than 12 hours after Hoke's comments.

Hoke declined to talk about injuries on Tuesday's Big Ten conference call, saying only "we'll see" when asked about Morris' availability for Saturday's game at Rutgers.

The term "probable mild concussion" in Brandon's statement is not a medical diagnosis that most neurologists would use, according to multiple doctors who spoke with ESPN.com on Tuesday.

Kelley Anderson, a sports medicine specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said she couldn't address Morris' specific injury, but her team of doctors wouldn't use the term probable.

"If he's completed the evaluation, at that point you start to say it is or it isn't," Anderson said. "Our typical terminology we use is, 'Do they have a concussion or not?'"

Brandon promised the UM athletic department would seek ways to better communicate injuries between the medical personnel and the coaching staff during games. The school plans to have a member of the training staff in the press box for all future games to facilitate that process.

Anderson and Jeff Bytomski, who helps coordinate Duke's Sports Concussion Clinic, said their solution to keeping a player with a suspected head injury off the field is to take away his helmets.

Bytomski, who has worked on the Blue Devils' sideline for 13 seasons, said coaches and trainers discuss injury information through headsets during the course of a game.

Hoke, who does not wear a headset on the Michigan sideline, was asked Monday if he would consider wearing one. His reply: "No. Thank you."

Hoke said he didn't plan to discuss the health status of Morris or any of his players moving forward and that the details about Morris' concussion and high ankle sprain were a rare exception to the program's policy.

"I just feel bad Shane had to go through that situation and was put in the middle of it," Hoke said. "We've got 115 guys we care deeply about, and that's where our focus always has been. We want to make sure we prepare them for this weekend."

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