What Would Mike Slive's Potential Reforms Mean for Vanderbilt Football?

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive kicked off the conference's annual Media Days with a bang this year. The ninth-year administrator promised a big announcement on Wednesday, and he didn't disappoint, laying out a four-pronged plan of attack to help clean up college football. These proposed reforms include higher academic standards, more oversight from NCAA watchdogs, and an overhaul of the entire recruiting process. Slive's entire plan was well summarized in Holly Anderson's article over at SBNation, but for those of us too lazy to click through to read a simple 364 word article, here's the bulleted gist of Slive's plan:

  1. Introducing multi-year scholarships to college football based on a "Cost-of-Attendance" rate. 
  2. Raising the GPA requirement for freshmen athletes from a 2.0 average to a 2.5 average in core classwork.
  3. Resetting and reforming current recruiting rules, thanks to the recent developments of the past decade.
  4. Increasing NCAA scrutiny of coach, team, and player violations.

Slive's goal is to create better experience for college athletes on the field, in the classroom, and in their everyday lives. While lofty, each seems reasonable in the grand scheme of reform. This isn't something as drastic as paying college athletes, but it does mean giving them a stronger scholarships. It's a series of steps that will help rebuild the increasingly tarnished facade of NCAA Football. If Slive can gain traction with these ideas, it will be both a step forward for college football and a PR coup for the SEC's czar.

But how would it affect Vanderbilt?

In 2003, the school dissolved its athletic department to desegregate the school's sports teams and keep them firmly under the umbrella of student life. The message was clear, at least on the surface; Vanderbilt's athletes won't be held to a different standard than any other student.

As far as athletic scandals go, Vanderbilt has been saintly. None of Vanderbilt's 15 varsity programs have ever been put on probation by the NCAA.  The school is the only one in the SEC without any major violations from the football team. However, even though history suggests that Vanderbilt should be well-insulated from reform, Slive's suggestions could have a significant impact on Commodore student-athletes and the team's place in the SEC pecking order. Should the Commissioner institute his plan in the conference, it would bring both benefits and drawbacks to the league's recruiting processes.

Let's break down Slive's recommended reforms, piece-by-piece:

 

 

 

1. Introducing multi-year scholarships to college football based on a "Cost-of-Attendance" rate. This would extend the window of scholarships beyond the current six-year frame and increase the annual value of these grants. In short, athletes would be given more money to cover all campus expenses and have the ability to reclaim lost scholarship years after a professional career for student-athletes who leave school early. 

For student-athletes, it means fewer concerns over the cost of living in college and potentially fewer temptations to break NCAA rules when it comes to accepting money. It also means that the value of an education may increase in recruiting pitches if student-athletes know that the window to return to school will remain open if they decide to jump to the professional ranks before graduating.

How this would affect Vanderbilt: The Commodores don't have a strong track record of players leaving Nashville early to jump to the NFL, making the extended scholarships less meaningful here than they would be at other SEC schools. Higher-value scholarships would be a benefit for all athletes at Vanderbilt, though it may come at the expense of increased tuition for the rest of the student body. 

2. Raising GPA requirement for freshmen from a 2.0 average to a 2.5 average in core classwork. Better academic standards for student-athletes, in this case potentially holding them to higher standards than regular students. Pretty simple.

How this would affect Vanderbilt: It would certainly make the early transition from high school to college more difficult for young athletes, but if there's any school in the SEC that could handle the challenge, it's Vanderbilt. Coach James Franklin is already stressing academics in his recruiting pitch to begin with, and it's tough to argue that bumping expectations up to a C+ average would have an immediate negative impact for the Commodores. The proposed change may lead to a few problems with isolated players, but is unlikely to change much on campus in Nashville.

However, this reform could have a wider impact on recruiting and eligibility in other SEC schools, and that could help Vanderbilt rise up the ranks through attrition alone if impact players are forced to leave the conference thanks to higher standards.

3. Resetting and reforming current recruiting rules, thanks to the recent developments of the past decade. Developments in communication have taken the art of recruiting to new heights, and the NCAA has often been slow to adjust. Tools like text messages and social networking have given coaches more avenues than ever to contact high school athletes in the new millennium. In most cases, such as with texting, the Association has made stopgap rule changes to prevent "improper" contact with recruits. Slive's suggestion would be to take an exhaustive overhaul of these recent developments and re-write the rule book on college football recruiting, eliminating any and all gray areas.

How this would affect Vanderbilt: Clearly, Mike Slive saw Franklin's 2012 recruiting haul and grimly sputtered "This must be stopped." Just kidding. Franklin's success on the recruiting trail appears to be a straightforward tale of challenging students and using charisma and academics to convince recruits to play for the SEC's only private school, but it's clear that Franklin's ability to reach out to and communicate effectively with athletes is his greatest quality.

Without specifics on Slive's plans, it's tough to tell what the exact impact of his proposed overhaul would be. However, it's a safe bet that it would likely limit the amount of communication between staff and high school athlete. For a school like Vanderbilt, whose pitch is based more on selling a vision than on-field results, this could have a negative impact. Franklin's been an incredible salesman of what the new Vanderbilt legacy can become, but it's a monologue that doesn't sell itself when you look at how this team has fared in the past. If his contact with players is further limited, Franklin's ability to bring in surprising recruits may suffer.

4. Increase NCAA scrutiny of coach, team, and player violations. Another straightforward plan. This means addressing scandals early before they turn into conflicts of Tresselian proportions. This would mean a more concise, straightforward NCAA rule book and fewer areas for appeal. Again, Slive wants to cut out the gray areas and avoid confusion or loopholes.

How this would affect Vanderbilt: The 'Dores would be more susceptible to NCAA sanctions, though the team's history suggests that this would have a minor impact, at best. However, in a time where Vandy's recruiting is hitting new heights, the team will likely be more open to scrutiny - from league officials and the media - than ever before. Bringing in high-level recruits doesn't mean that rule violations are going on, but it does mean that more people will be looking for them. This is what Vanderbilt will face in the public eye in 2011-2012 even without an official rule change.

The End Result?

In all, the 'Dores shouldn't feel too threatened by Slive's proposal. If enacted, which is no certainty, it would improve student life for athletes and set clear guidelines for recruiting into the future. For a school that has no history of NCAA discipline and that has only recently begun making waves on the recruiting trail, it would take much more sweeping change to affect the culture of Vanderbilt football. 

However, these reforms could have a greater effect for some of the conference's established powerhouses. All 11 of the league's schools have been sanctioned at some point for football violations, and stauncher regulations could hamper the quality of teams across the SEC. Given the league's history, it's tough to imagine tougher standards playing no role in affecting some of the conference's programs. 

Every team will be more vulnerable to losing players and having scholarships docked, but history suggests that Vanderbilt will be the safest. If they can continue to be the league's anchor, a fading tide could help them press closer to the surface and towards a breakthrough year. While not ideal, it could be the boost that this team needs when coupled with the influx of new talent Franklin is bringing with him. In a way, this top-down reform could be as big a part in a Vandy bowl resurgence than any four-star recruit.

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