This weekend, a heavy headline disrupted an otherwise slow offseason Friday; four Vanderbilt players were being investigated by the Metro Nashville Police Department for their alleged roles in a potential sex crime on campus.
The university acted quickly. The four players in question were first suspended, then banned from the Nashville campus and removed from the team. Vanderbilt authorities, citing student safety and security concerns, made it known that these young men would not be allowed back on campus without expressed permission from university administration.
These reports were vague, but ran with a central point; something bad happened on campus, and four Vandy football players were to blame. The severity of their transgressions isn't clear, but bits and pieces about the story have trickled to light in the three days since this scandal broke. Here's what we know so far about one of the worst accusations to ever rock the Vanderbilt football program.
So what happened?
The Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) started an investigation last Wednesday (June 26th) to determine whether or not a sex crime had taken place in a Vanderbilt dormitory. Allegations pointed to four Commodore football players, which was backed up when Vanderbilt suspended the four players on Friday evening. By Saturday morning, all four had been removed from the football team and banned from even stepping foot on campus.
Has anyone been charged with a crime?
No, but with the MNPD investigation still going on, that is still a possibility.
Who was involved, and why hasn't Vanderbilt publicly released the names of the players who have been kicked off the team?
With an investigation pending, the names of those involved have yet to be released by the police. This protects the identities of the students who have been accused on a possible crime, but not charged with one. If the police determine that a crime occurred and that these football players are involved, then we'll see an official release from the MNPD and, likely, Vanderbilt University.
Additionally, no names have been removed from the official Vanderbilt football roster on VUCommodores.com.
Speculation suggests that the four players involved were younger members of the team who didn't play a big role in 2012. There haven't been many details leaking to the press, but the scope - and timing - of the university's actions suggest that there is merit behind the investigation. It certainly appears that members of the team made a series of bad decisions in a Vanderbilt dorm room, and their actions endangered another student. That's entirely unacceptable not only for the football team, but for the student body as a whole.
When will we hear from head coach James Franklin on the issue?
James Franklin has traditionally been quiet about his disciplinary actions. Jacquese Kirk was forced to transfer from Vandy this spring and the school made little mention of the reasons behind it until the former WR/DB discussed his violation of team rules with the Tennessean. Franklin and his staff have been discreet about transgressions even when the consequences of these actions go public. For example, we still don't have an official reason for why Jared Morse was kicked off the team this spring even after he re-enrolled at Vandy this summer. In fact, Franklin wouldn't even discuss Kirk's role in a barfight even after Kirk had copped to it.
As such, expect the normally outspoken coach to retain radio silence on this issue, at least until the MNPD closes their official investigation.
Can these players return to the university or the team?
That's unclear, and will likely depend on the investigation. All four players can appeal the university's decision, but it wouldn't make sense to have that hearing until the police have made a choice regarding formal changes. In the meantime, they can look into transferring, but they'd still likely have to sit out the 2013 season at their new destination (if someone is willing to take them). If the players involved are incoming freshmen, they'd no longer be bound to the university by their Letter of Intent after their release. If they'd played for Vanderbilt in 2012, they'd be forced to redshirt for a year due to NCAA rules unless they chose to play at a FCS school instead.
Again, that's pending investigation. Formal charges would certainly change that outlook. Any return to Vanderbilt would hinge on being exonerated from any of the accusations that have been made. At this point, it seems unlikely.
So who is affected the most in this situation?
It's the victim. Let's not forget that.
Does Vanderbilt football have a discipline problem?
Actually, at face value, discipline seems to be something that the university is doing well. The number of crimes and team rule violations seem to be rising under Franklin's watch, but the school has been quick to act when football players make mistakes that harm other people. Vanderbilt's disciplinary action - suspending, then removing these students after gathering information - was an integral move for the future of this school's athletic programs.
(The effectiveness of this discipline, especially now, with four players accused in a potential sex crime even after the dismissals of players like Kirk and Andre Simmons, is a debate for another time.)
In this case, the university investigated and found that an incident occurred that threatened the safety of one of its students. It moved quickly to rectify that situation. The school's decisive action could be viewed as too harsh given the lack of formal charges, but it's also important that Vanderbilt use this example as a deterrent for the future.
It's a sad statement to suggest that these incidents are a part of the big-time college football landscape, but that may be how the university sees this recent swing in team-related problems. By moving quickly to dismiss these players, the school is reinforcing their hard stance against student misconduct and showing athletes that they're subject to, if anything, more scrutiny thanks to their role in the Vanderbilt community. Integrity has been a staple of Commodore football in the past, and fans have often clung to the fact that Vandy had the cleanest program in the SEC. Losing that in order to chase talent would be an affront to that ideal.
However, there are issues with the timing of these announcements. Vanderbilt allowed the Tennessean to get in front of this story and only addressed the investigation after media attention had pushed it to the forefront. The quick span between suspension and dismissal for these players - about 12 hours - leaves room for interpretation about how the wheels were turning behind the scenes. Were these student athletes really dismissed between 5 PM on a Friday and 5 AM on a Saturday? Or was the Commodore PR machine working to find a way to better frame the story after meting out discipline earlier in the week, as the Tennessean's David Climer suggests?
This isn't the only time that Vanderbilt's public relations have lagged in the face of football discipline. Franklin's lack of a statement after Kirk admitted that he'd stabbed a former Vandy player at a bar was a frustrating reaction to a problem that seemed to merit more than a punitive transfer. In that situation, like this one, the Tennessean brought a Vanderbilt-related crime to public light before the university did.
While the actions taken are a good thing, it's clear that the university needs more work in terms of managing a scandal like this. That's unfortunate, but understandable. This is one of the worst reports to hit any Vandy athletics program in the modern era. It's not something that anyone - the university, the coaching staff, or students - could have prepared for in advance. It's a dark reality to face, but the Commodore athletic department simply has to better understand how to deal with scandals that may crop up down the road.
Vanderbilt football is mired in a dark time. Four of its players are being accused of a sex crime that may have major repercussions across the campus. The university seems primed to handle things internally, but a bolder public statement (pending the police investigation) would certainly go a long way in regaining some of the public trust that had been lost last week and reassuring the victim that these crimes won't be tolerated at Vanderbilt. The university will have to explore several different avenues to make things right at the MNPD investigation unfolds. Hopefully, they'll find the right one.