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Anchor Drop, June 13, 2019: 79 Days to Kickoff

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I rant about stuff today.

AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am

Good morning.

Today marks 79 days until Vanderbilt football’s season opener against Georgia. #79 for Vanderbilt is Sean Sadler, a 6’3”, 220-pound walk-on defensive lineman from Oklahoma City who, according to his team site profile, enjoys video games and mudding. Sounds cool.

While we’re still in baseball season, the week between the super regional and the College World Series officially marks the place in the calendar where news is scant. Vanderbilt had five players named to the NCBWA All-American team, which seems... unsurprising.

Vanderbilt lacrosse is on a Lacrosse Without Borders tour in England and Ireland.

Four graduate transfersRowan Godwin (South Alabama), Justice Shelton-Mosley (Harvard), Cameron Watkins (Illinois), and Eddie Zinn-Turner (Marist) — have officially joined the football program, though we’d known for a while that all of them were coming here. (If you’re curious, QB Riley Neal was enrolled for the spring semester and participated in spring practice at Vanderbilt.)

Off the West End

The NCAA is preparing to bring the hammer down on multiple college basketball programs that were named in the FBI investigation, at long last. And there was much rejoicing.

And since this is a Vanderbilt sports blog, I’m pointing you in the direction of this piece from the Washington Post regarding the college admissions bribery scandal and how it’s shedding light on something that’s long been fairly well-known (if not really talked about) among people associated with elite universities but is now going into the mainstream: how much athletics plays a role in the college admissions process. (There’s also a helpful chart breaking down the proportion of the student bodies of top universities and colleges that are varsity athletes. Vanderbilt, where 5 percent of the student body are playing a sport, is actually on the lower end of the private universities, in large part because the university only fields 6 men’s and 9 women’s varsity sports. By comparison, at Dartmouth, varsity athletes comprise 21 percent of the student body.)

So, let’s start with the obvious: The reason why this suddenly became a big deal to anybody was because a few enterprising parents figured out that (a) universities recruit athletes to play for competitive sports teams and (b) athletes that are recruited to play a sport are usually admitted to the university. I say “usually” because there have been a few cases where they haven’t, and it’s usually happened because a coach decided to push the envelope a little too far with admissions. Those parents then decided to bribe a coach at the school to tell the admissions office that their children were being recruited to play a sport.

With that said, the broader question people are starting to ask is whether colleges should even be fielding sports teams, or at least whether they should be cutting breaks for recruited athletes at the admissions office. The answer to the first should be fairly obvious to anyone who’s ever set foot on a college campus, but especially a smaller private college. For lack of a better phrase, sports are kind of the glue that holds everything together at most colleges. (I say “most” because there are some colleges that really essentially do get by without them.) If not for football, is there any particular reason why college students should be on campus on the weekend? And by logical extension, should they be there during the week, either, for anything other than classes? Meanwhile, sports give some students a reason to attend a particular college that they probably wouldn’t otherwise. (Particularly at the NAIA level, and even in Division III, there are some schools that likely wouldn’t exist if they didn’t have some students coming there to play a sport.)

And sports teams also tend to keep alumni engaged with the university better than just about anything else could. (See: men in their 30s writing a blog about Vanderbilt sports, a decade or more removed from actually attending the school.) The basic reality is that sports are so central to the social fabric of most colleges that you can’t really do without them, as much as some in academia would like to see them. Because so far — nobody has come up with anything to replace them. And, of course, if you’re going to field sports teams, you might as well make an effort to compete.

What does a college look like when sports aren’t the glue holding everything together? By and large, in the United States, this looks like your average community college or commuter school. Students drive to the school, park their cars, take classes, and then go home, usually to a parent’s house or occasionally an off-campus apartment. Anybody attacking sports on campus likely either doesn’t realize that this is what college looks like without it, or this is exactly what they want college to look like. And these colleges almost never have any alumni engagement of any significance, because why would you care about such a place?

And meanwhile — on the campus of your average flagship state university/football factory, athletes who would otherwise barely get into community college are admitted with no questions asked, and often their sports teams (at least the cash cows) have their own dorms, dining halls, and even majors completely disconnected from the student body at-large. (And then, they wonder why they have such trouble getting other students to come to the games. Granted, so does Vanderbilt, but are the athletic teams at state schools even connected to the student body at large?) Somehow, the question there is not whether the schools should be operating teams in this manner, but whether the players should be paid. Which, well, at this point they’re college students in name only.

Anyway, that’s your rant for the morning. Go watch the U.S. Open today.