How to Train Your Dragon

By Ramzy Nasrallah on February 5, 2013 at 3:00 pm
NOOOOOOOOO LENAAAYYYYYYYY (glug glug glug)Michigan's social media simulation should keep players safe from fake ladies. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o wasn't so lucky.

As you read here yesterday, Michigan AD Dave Brandon is a relentless idea machine.

He runs the point for a Wolverines' marketing offense that's taking the brand to consumers well beyond its key-jingling core base. Recently he brilliantly turned a 60 Minutes report on big money in college athletics into a free 12-minute infomercial for the Michigan brand.

He is an innovator who once dared to sell mac n' cheese inside of an edible carbohydrate sarcophagus. Brandon is smart enough to assault millions of pancreases from the confines of his board room and motivated enough to do it – all while increasing shareholder wealth and product recognition.

Channeling his college coach Bo Schembechler's mantra, it's clear what Brandon's priority is at his alma mater: The brand, the brand, the brand.

And when any single component of it stumbles, the entire brand suffers – and Brandon is ahead of the shame game: His athletes essentially experienced Manti Te'o's humiliation from the privacy of Michigan's own laboratory a full year before Deadspin spilled Lennay Kekua's secret to everybody.

It was a brilliant way to safely demonstrate the consequences of poor choices before they materialize. But what other bold experiments could Brandon be hatching on Michigan athletes?

What could be Brandon's next bread bowl?

There wasn't any flagship precedent to the perils of social networking prior to L'affaire Te'o, so in lieu of being blessed with Brandon's cunning foresight, let's take a look back to see how he could have effectively curtailed some of college football's recent off-the-field embarrassments:


What if Kellen Winslow Jr. had gotten to feel what it was like to crash Nevin Shapiro's jet ski into a yacht before he slammed into infamy?

There's got to be some way to simulate the psychological, social and – most importantly for Mark Emmert – the NCAA repercussions to committing such a heinous disregard for one's body and amateur status. 

Tee hee!Miami LB DJ Williams aboard Nevin Shapiro's yacht in 2003.

The technology already exists to set the skis in motion for a video game simulation. All that's needed to deliver it is an application merge with NCAA '13 along with an eligibility mode extension, as missing games due to injury is already part of the best-selling EA Sports platform.

You hear that sound? That's Duron Carter pre-ordering it already.

Boating on the Great Lakes is a temptation not terribly far removed from life in Ann Arbor. Miami's players were knowingly pleasure-cruising on Shapiro's yacht off the coast, and once he flipped from rogue booster to imprisoned whistleblower everyone was implicated.

But going back to the catalyst for trouble: There are ways Brandon could temper his athletes' urges to go yachting or jet skiing: 1) Nurture a phobia for open water. 2) Encourage paddleboat rental (and retain the receipts). 3) Take the team on a dinner cruise on Lake Huron.

If all else fails, a covert seminar on how to lease a booster's yacht to a player's grandmother or aunt to keep things on the level could be arranged. Stranger nearly identical things have happened before on campus.

Or just get a loaner yacht. Hell, get like six of them.


It's not just athletes who could find themselves in a world of embarrassment. With the exception of Nick Saban, college coaches are human too.

When Bobby Petrino took a liking to Jessica Dorrell, he was no different than anyone else who might have been smitten with a workplace crush. Those affairs of the heart come in several varieties ranging from harmless to reckless.

The good news for Brandon is that he doesn't have to reinvent much from his successful social media experiment with athletes to keep Brady Hoke off the subordinates. The concept is similar; the benefit is that no marriages or coaching contracts have to be shattered to learn from this lesson.

Stay focused on the hat, y'all. Remember I'm a BCS coach."I can explain everything. It will require some lying, though."

Left unchecked, Petrino's crush produced an adulterous fling that included university money for Dorrell (a nice $20,000 cash bonus at Christmas – oh, didn't you get one too?) and culminated with both of them bleeding on the highway.

Unfortunately motorcycle wrecks keep very few secrets, and Petrino, Dorrell and – most importantly for the brand, the brand, the brand – Arkansas all choked on a public shaming that could have been prevented with a similar exercise to what occurred when Michigan basically catfished its own.

Having suffered through Ohio State's own loss of its football patriarch – a five-minute lesson for Jim Tressel called Hey Coach When You Hit Send From Your OSU Email It Becomes Public Record would have worked – there's no safeguard too extreme to protect Coach Hoke from a more salacious demise. 

Brandon could deploy an attractive AD employee – Ann Arbor is teeming with sirens – to bait Coach Hoke into temptation. The simulated career heist is then revealed privately and Hoke learns a lesson that doesn't come with a neck brace and facial scrapes.

Petrino's demise happens routinely in workplaces everywhere, just not usually on ESPN. Dating in the office, especially across salary bands, is commonly referred to in the workplaces as a CLM: Career-Limiting Move.

As Arkansas can tell you, it can be damaging to the brand. The Hogs basically forfeited the 2012 season after John L. Smith took over for Petrino, who was subsequently fired.

Oh, you don't think Michigan's coaches are targets for homewrecking women? Then you haven't seen Greg Mattison dance


It's evident that more could be done to impress upon the ambassadors of college athletics that brand preservation is of utmost importance.

Extra-marital relationships that result in questionable hirings and improper benefits are universally scorned. Crashing jet skis you're not supposed to ride into yachts you shouldn't be on isn't ambiguously against the rules – it's an overt violation of them. 

And as with social media misuse, it can also cause embarrassment. Nonetheless, there are some rules that are campus-specific. This doesn't only have to be Michigan's genius.

Earl Gray tea: For when heroin just isn't enough.Afternoon tea: Not even once, Brigham Young students.

Notre Dame, for example, has single-sex residence halls and enforces parietals, which are the hours that intermingling there is permitted.

Parietals end before midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends. No shacking allowed for the Fighting Irish.

A little clock-tampering could serve as a fun exercise, though we've already seen how Notre Dame handles discipline in violations that dwarf breaking curfew. It is impossible to be shamed if one is shameless. Te'o, by comparison, was nothing.

But Brigham Young is no Notre Dame, my friends. The Honor Code is very real, and violating it can leave its Cougars very expelled. Honesty, chastity and virtue are required conduct. There are no life audibles in Provo.

That doesn't mean that the consequences of succumbing to the sweet temptation of sleeping through church, getting a stupid haircut or having B.O. (all technically violations) couldn't be effectively demonstrated in a controlled environment. 

As Brandon showed with Michigan's athletes, the learnings can as effective as the revelation is enjoyable. I'm just saying that malt vinegar looks a lot like tea, and hidden cameras make everything better.

Make it happen, BYU. The forward-thinking AD in Ann Arbor certainly would.

At both the individual and organizational level, no one wants to make headlines for the wrong reasons. Remember: Just think of the brand.

But if nothing else, make sure the girl is real before you fall in love.

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