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From Pizza to Pigskin


Domino's CEO leaves the corner office for Big Ten college sports.

Division 1-A football is a $2 billion-a-year business so it's not surprising that the University of Michigan selected a top executive from the private sector to head its athletics program.

David Brandon, chief executive officer for Domino's Pizza (DPZ), will take over as the school's athletic director in March if approved by the University's Board of Regents. Brandon says his new job won't affect the board seats he holds with other companies, including Burger King (BKC) and clothing and home goods retailer TJX (TJX).

Brandon, 57, will receive a five-year contract. He played football under the late Coach Bo Schembechler and lettered as a defensive end in 1973. Brandon says his experience on the field had a "profound impact" on his life and career.

Brandon faces several key challenges in his new job.

In August, the University of Michigan launched an internal investigation into allegations that the football program broke NCAA rules limiting how much time players can spend training and practicing.

This fall, the football team will play in a newly renovated stadium and Brandon almost certainly will draw on his marketing skills as the school seeks to fill luxury boxes that cost as much as $85,000 per season.

Here's betting Brandon will quickly nail down the business end of the school's sports program, but can he boost graduation rates -- especially for black athletes?

The NCAA says 79% of Division I freshmen student-athletes who entered college in 2002 earned their degrees, an all-time high.

But that's an average, and women continue to graduate at higher rates than men, with 88% of female student athletes earning a four-year degree compared with 72% for men. Overall, 66% of football players graduate, and that tops the 55% overall graduation rate for major schools as a whole. But the graduation rates for all students typically don't include transfer students and about 60% of undergraduates will attend more than one school. Michigan graduated 65% of its student athletes, but blacks continue to trail whites.

Keep in mind that the number of athletes in a given program is small and the success or failure of an added few to graduate can skew the statistics. Top students go to top schools so it's not surprising that the more competitive the school, the higher the overall graduation rate.

The annual report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at University of Central Florida found overall academic progress at 67 schools surveyed, but there were 21 that graduated fewer than half of their black football players, up from 19 last year.

Brandon speaks fondly of his experience as a student athlete. Let's see if he can translate his nostalgia into higher graduation rates for all athletes. In 2008, Michigan ranked twentieth in graduating its football players, trailing Notre Dame (94%), Stanford (93%), and Duke (92%), but outpacing UCLA (62%).

Brandon joined Domino's in 1999 and is widely credited with its expansion. Domino's serves about 1.3 million pizzas a day through 8,800 outlets in about 60 countries. The company, established as a single store in 1960, now employs about 170,000 people worldwide. In 2008, sales totaled $1.4 billion.

Domino's went public in July 2004 and the stock opened at $14 a share. In mid-day trading Tuesday, the shares fetched $8.65 each, down $0.03, or 0.34%. Competitors include Little Caesar Enterprises, Papa John's International (PZZA) and Pizza Hut, part of Yum Brands (YUM).

Domino's announced that J. Patrick Doyle will replace Brandon as the company's CEO. Doyle, 46, joined the company in 1997 and has served as president of the company's US division since 2007. He recently appeared in ads plugging Domino's new recipe, launched as part of the company's fiftieth anniversary. (See also, Finding the Recipe for Success.)
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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