Machiavellian Principles Applied To Dave Brandon

Imagine that Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon is a prince, student-athletes and coaches are his nobles, and Michigan students are his subjects.  It is pretty absurd, but stick with me.


Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke pointing. (I wanted to get a picture with Brandon when I met him but unfortunately he had to rush away afterwards to make his flight to the Rutgers game)

In Chapter IX of “The Prince,”  Machiavelli says, “He who obtains sovereignty by the assistance of the nobles maintains himself with more difficulty than when he who comes to it by the aid of the people, because the former finds himself with many around him who consider themselves his equals, and because of this he can neither rule nor manage them to his liking.  But he who reaches sovereignty by popular favor finds himself alone, and has none around him, or few, who are not prepared to obey him.”  This means that a prince that has won over his nobles will have them to support him, but if he has not, then he has no one.   Student-athletes are pleased because with more money flowing into Michigan athletics, Brandon has made plans to renovate gyms, create a new venue for lacrosse, an indoor and outdoor track, a women’s rowing facility, soccer team centers, new athletic medicine center, and more projects.  Brandon’s unknown application of Machiavelli’s policy has introduced him to an athletic support network.  Since Brandon has won over the large majority of student-athletes and coaches (the nobles), I predict he will keep his job even though the people (students) are unhappy.  Coach John Beilein speaks about why he likes Brandon here.

But Machiavelli also says that a good prince should, “seek to win the people over to himself.”  Right now students are not pleased with Brandon to say the least.  There is a petition with over 10,000 signatures that he should be fired and students even held a rally demanding that Brandon would lose his job.  All of the negativity toward Brandon began this past Saturday at the Minnesota game where football coach Brady Hoke, unknowingly kept a concussed player on the field and then sent him back in later in the game.  The event spurred discussion about issues with Brandon, specifically the raise in student ticket prices and the concern that the athletic department is not concerned with athlete health and safety.  Brandon is trying to “win the people” back over by publicly apologizing for the mistake made at Saturday’s game and implementing new sideline communication strategies.

In class we discussed the “Dirty Hands Problem,” where a prince can do something ethically questionable to accomplish something praiseworthy.  Students have been angered over the raise in student ticket prices from last year.  Prices have been raised $7.50 per game for student tickets.  This increase probably isn’t considered ethically wrong, but after hearing some students complain about how much more they had to pay this year, you probably would consider it to be.  The increased profit from student ticket sales is going toward renovating athletic gyms, a concept popular among student athletes but not with the non-athletic student population.   So although he is upsetting some people, Brandon is positively impacting the athletes, which is his job as athletic director.  For some people, mainly athletes and coaches, the ends justify the means, but others disagree.


The University of Michigan prides itself for having outstanding athletic facilities for all sports, including volleyball pictured here.

Also, throwing my own point of view in here as a student-athlete, Brandon and the entire athletic department’s main concern is the mental and physical well being of student athletes here at Michigan. Brandon was not on the field when Hoke sent the injured player back in, nor was Hoke informed by the medical staff on the field that the player could have been concussed.  And off the field, there are endless amounts of resources available to keep athletes healthy.  You get tested for all sorts of problems, can be given medicine you need, can see a doctor, have large coaching staff always watching you perform to make sure you don’t hurt yourself, can go to see the dozens of athletic trainers and use the rehabilitation equipment, and nutritionists and psychologists are always available.  Needless to say, everything an athlete needs to stay healthy is here and all are promoted to be used.



  1. dverdere · October 4, 2014

    I agree with you that the university would never want to see a player get hurt, but on the Saturday in which the concussed Shane Morris went back on the field, many mistakes were made. There is supposed to be an associate athletic director in one of the upstairs boxes in charge of player health and safety. He relays messages to the training staff after watching replays on a screen on whether or not a player is fit to go back in. Since mistakes were made, someone needs to accept and face the negative consequences that come with putting a young athlete in harm’s way and since Brandon is in charge of the athletic program, the spotlight falls on him. Some have said that this was blown out of proportion and is not as big of a deal as it has been made out to be, but I disagree with that strongly. There should be no possibility of a mistake like this to happen with all of the amazing strategy and preparation that the university has in order to look after player safety as you mentioned in the article. There are doctors, advisers, trainers, and coaches to make sure something like this doesn’t happen, but it did and now Dave Brandon, the leader of the entire operation, is getting the blame.


  2. aricerq · October 22, 2014

    I disagree with your idea that Dave Brandon fits Machiavelli’s definition of a prince. While you have placed large emphasis on his revenue raising tactics and the ability for our athletic department to sustain itself, this is not what Michigan athletics is all about. You mentioned that a prince must seek to win over his people, and you claim that he had only lost their support after the Minnesota game. This, however, is entirely not true. The strong distaste and uproar about Dave Brandon has stemmed primarily from his corporate, money raising mindset that he has brought to Michigan athletics. In his attempts to garner more revenue through such things as increased ticket prices, creating night games, and lessening the time the band is able to play at halftime, Brandon has completely disregarded the traditions that has made Michigan football such a revered institution; this is what has caused people to dislike Brandon. So while you may find that Brandon fits the definition of a Prince as set forth by Machiavelli, I could not agree less. Without the support of his people, he cannot be a good prince.


Comments are closed.