There was a basketball game played at Memorial Gym on Sunday.
You mean you didn’t know? That’s because it was a so-called secret scrimmage.
It’s a rather arcane NCAA rule (but then, calling a NCAA rule “arcane” is redundant.) Under NCAA rules, Division I schools can play a maximum of two preseason games; but only games against lower-division schools are allowed to be open to the public. (Or, for that matter, announced in advance, televised, or even have stats kept.) Here’s an article from ESPN explaining this a bit more, but since it’s ESPN, don’t expect any critical thinking.
So what’s the big deal? Well, Vanderbilt hasn’t played an actual exhibition game — meaning, a game against a lower-division school that’s open to the public and televised and in which stats are kept — since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, when the Commodores played Illinois-Springfield and Sewanee. (Schools used to be allowed to play barnstorming teams made up of former college players, but the NCAA disallowed it in 2004.) Meanwhile, literally every other SEC school, by my count, will play at least one exhibition game that’s open to the public. (Though most of them are playing just one exhibition game, which means they’re probably playing a “secret” scrimmage as well.)
The fact that Vanderbilt is not doing something that every other SEC school is doing, aside from being thoroughly unsurprising, suggests that there’s a reason for holding exhibition games that are open to the public. Yes, money, but also fans. If given the choice, would you prefer to wait until November 11 to watch Vanderbilt play basketball — and wait until November 14 to watch them play a home game — or to watch the team play a live, somewhat real game before that? Of course you’d pick the latter.
What’s more, since you’re playing a lower-division school, you can make it fun for the fans by scheduling a smaller local or regional school. Like old rival Sewanee, whom Vanderbilt played in an exhibition game in 2014. Or Trevecca.
So like everything else, the question is why Vanderbilt is choosing to play only in secret before November 11. It looks like Bryce Drew’s Valparaiso teams played an exhibition game or two annually, so either Drew changed his mind about that in the transition from Valpo to Vanderbilt, or it’s a Vanderbilt policy.
What’s that? Pitt and their new head coach Kevin Stallings scheduled an exhibition game this year, after Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings decided to only do secret scrimmages in 2015? Okay, it’s probably a Vanderbilt thing, not a coach thing.
Because why would Vanderbilt want to allow the fans to pay for the honor of watching the team before the regular season starts? That just wouldn’t make sense.
(But if you’re interested, below are some highlights from the “secret” scrimmage that didn’t happen, and yes, it’s a little ironic that Bryce Drew and Scott Drew cancelled a previously-signed contract but WILL play each other behind closed doors.)