By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published April 23, 2012
UPDATE:The Athletic Department has since told the Michigan Marching Band that the band will be traveling to the Cowboy Classic.
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Last Thursday, Scott Boerma, Director of the Michigan Marching Band, delivered a heartbreaking e-mail to the band.
Boerma’s message was relaying a decision by the Athletic Department that due to budgetary constraints, the band would not be traveling to the season-opening Cowboy Classic against defending-champion Alabama in Dallas.
The decision caught the director, the band and the fan base off-guard.
“It was a surprise,” Boerma wrote on Monday in an e-mail correspondence with the Daily. “However, we understand that (Athletic Director Dave Brandon) has to make the tough decisions for his department, and we respected his decision.”
When the story broke on Thursday afternoon, the decision was met with tremendous backlash and criticism in the Michigan community. Students, fans and alumni alike voiced displeasure throughout the weekend.
After a Monday press conference announcing the hiring of new Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico, Brandon spoke at length to explain the issue and discuss his stance on whether the band still might receive funding to travel to Dallas.
“The problem about getting the band down there is a problem that’s been worked on for months,” Brandon said. “I know it’s on the front of everybody’s brain today, but we continue to work on it and I am optimistic that we’ll come up with a solution.
“This is an unusual set of circumstances, but it’s an unusual football game, and that’s why I think people will have a different view of this game than other away games. I understand that, so we’re working on it.”
Brandon said it would cost $400,000 to send the marching band Dallas, a cost that the Athletic Department could not justifiably stomach alone, even with the contract for the Cowboy Classic guaranteeing Michigan $4.7 million.
Brandon explained that that figure wasn’t indicative of a profit made by the Athletic Department, since football revenue carries the lion’s share of the burden for funding the 29 varsity sports at Michigan.
“People don’t need to understand how this business works, but how this works is football — and to a much, much, much lesser degree men’s basketball — pays the cost of 27 other sports,” Brandon said. “Make no mistake about it: the revenues we receive from football, without them we don’t have an athletic department.”
Brandon's understanding was that the original plan for the neutral-site game in Dallas was for the band to travel on a bus tour instead of a charter flight to minimize expenses with a “very cool and a more reasonable way to get a band to an away game.” Boerma said the idea originated with the marching band, though that decision had not yet been made.
“In light of this special trip and its expected expenses, the MMB offered a year ago to look into a bus trip as a possibility,” Boerma told the Daily. “Although we would have been willing to continue discussing this as an option, a plane trip would certainly be optimal for our band students, just as it would be for our football team members.
“One of several major reasons would be the fact that a bus trip would cut approximately 18 hours of rehearsal time in our pre-season schedule.”
Given the number of Michigan fans traveling to the Cowboy Classic, as well as the wide breadth of the alumni base, neither Brandon nor Boerma was surprised by the pushback over the weekend.
“Certainly, everyone wants the band there, and they have made that opinion clear,” Boerma said.
“The band wants to go to Dallas, and so does everybody who loves the band, and I love the band,” Brandon added. “I want them to go to Dallas, too. It was just a function of … trying to figure out how to make that work.”
For as many complaints as Brandon has received since Thursday, both the marching band and the Athletic Department heard from numerous alumni and donors interested in helping to finance the band’s trip to Dallas. As of Monday, no official decision has yet been made regarding whether the Athletic Department or the band will begin to fundraise.
Within the band, Boerma urged the members to wait out a final decision.
“I also urged them to be professional in their communications and to maintain the class-act image we strive for,” Boerma said. “Despite their disappointment with the news, I believe that most of them have reacted in a responsible way.”
Boerma said discussions regarding the Dallas trip began last spring, and it was clear from the beginning that Brandon wanted the marching band in Dallas. Within the past week, discussions have shifted but the sentiment has remained.
“I have had nothing but positive conversations with Dave Brandon during these past few days,” Boerma said. “He certainly wants the band to be there, just like everyone else. The MMB enjoys a terrifically positive relationship with the Athletic Department — one that is not seen in many of our peer institutions. Dave Brandon has been extremely generous in his support of the MMB.”
So will the Michigan Marching Band be in Dallas on Sept. 1?
“I am optimistic,” Boerma said.