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Vanderbilt “cancels” Spring Game

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Outrage abounds in the usual corners of the interwebs, but this might be the dumbest non-story ever.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

We’re late to the party on this one, but Vanderbilt won’t be playing a spring football game this year, as first reported by Adam Sparks. This news dropped yesterday when the SEC released the spring game television schedule in an article titled “All SEC spring football games to be televised,” with a lawyerly note at the bottom stating “13 of the 14 SEC Football Teams have elected to play a spring game this year.”

That’s sparked outrage and snark from the usual corners:

Jared Stillman took a shot at Vanderbilt? Of COURSE Jared Stillman took a shot at Vanderbilt. Except that Vanderbilt itself is telling a bit of a different story.

The Commodores’ featured session of Spring Ball will be a scrimmage on Saturday, March 25, at 10 a.m. in Vanderbilt Stadium. The event is free to Commodore fans and will feature a post-scrimmage autograph session with Vanderbilt players.

A scrimmage open to fans, with a post-scrimmage autograph session with players? That... sounds an awful lot like a spring game to me. Except that it won’t be televised.

Vanderbilt has so far been mum about it, and the reason that’s an issue is that it allows the Jared Stillman types — as well as the people who call themselves fans but always seem to have criticism (whether warranted or not) for the university and its athletic programs — to control the narrative. But it’s not that difficult to guess that this is probably just an issue of semantics and/or scheduling.

What does scheduling have to do with this? Look at FB Schedules’ list of spring games for 2017. There are precious few scheduled prior to April 1 — and none that will be televised on the ESPN family of networks. A previous version of the schedule, before the SEC announced the television schedule for spring games, showed the Vanderbilt spring game scheduled for March 31.

What’s significant about March 31 is not all that difficult to figure out, either. The championship game of the postseason NIT will be held on March 30 — and televised on ESPN. Basically, prior to March 31, ESPN is all basketball, all the time for a few weeks there. It’s a near certainty that ESPN told schools no spring games before March 31, and 13 of the 14 SEC schools obeyed.

So what else could be at play here? It’s likely that the SEC and ESPN wanted some say in the scheduling of spring games. It’s also likely that Vanderbilt wanted to hold its spring game to coincide with a home game for the baseball team -- but with the baseball team being on the road for three of four weekends between April 1 and April 22, that was difficult, and the SEC/ESPN might have been trying to pin Vanderbilt down to a particular weekend. That’s backed up by the fact that the “spring scrimmage” that’s absolutely not at all a spring game is on March 25, a date when the Commodore baseball team plays a home game against Texas A&M.

While Vanderbilt is mum about it, if you’re paying attention at all it’s not difficult to figure out what’s likely going on here. Vanderbilt wanted to schedule the spring game on the same day as a home baseball game to goose attendance for both events, the SEC and/or ESPN said no to Vanderbilt holding its spring game on the weekend of April 15, and Vanderbilt then decided to move it to March 25... but ESPN said they couldn’t have a televised spring game before March 31, and the SEC told Vanderbilt it couldn’t call it a “spring game” (to carry on with the fiction that every SEC spring game is televised.)

In the end, this is probably much ado about nothing. Vanderbilt will hold a spring game on March 25, but isn’t calling it a spring game, and it won’t be televised because ESPN has the NIT that weekend. The non-spring game spring game sounds exactly like a spring game. The only Vanderbilt thing about this is that they’re letting the Jared Stillmans of the world handle the PR instead of coming out and telling everybody the reason for it.

But if you’re up in arms about Vanderbilt cancelling the spring game, you’re probably just not paying attention. This is a non-story that’s only a story because Vanderbilt decided to let it become one.