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The Next Era: Vanderbilt Must Come to Terms with Itself

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If Vanderbilt Athletics is to succeed, it must look itself in the mirror and see its shortcomings, and if fans want to find success, they will have to accept that football will never rule the way other SEC schools do.

Northern Illinois v Vanderbilt Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

There are a lot of very strong opinions about the last two weeks of Vanderbilt football. From firing Derek Mason, to Sarah Fuller, to not being able to field a team against Georgia, one thing is very clear: Commodore fans are very split on where things should go. However, this conversation isn’t new. We’ve been having it for at least twenty years.

While polarization occurs in basketball, it pales in comparison to football discussions, which puts a spotlight on the Vanderbilt administration more than any other sport. Of course, this is because it’s the highest profile and highest revenue sport in college athletics. But the time seems to have come where we need to acknowledge something we should have acknowledged a long time ago: the model of football that the SEC follows is inconsistent with Vanderbilt’s mission, and quite frankly, that’s what makes Vanderbilt great.

So, if we are to move forward, there are two truths that need to be accepted:

1. To the Vanderbilt administration and faculty, you have no clue what you are doing, and you should leave it to someone who knows what the hell they’re doing.

2. To the people who think Vanderbilt should run like its brethren in conference, it’s not going to happen, so deal with it.

Let’s delve into those points a bit more.

1. Vanderbilt needs to accept that it has failed its student-athletes in football miserably over the past 3 years.

It’s really unclear what happened after Adam Sparks and Joe Rexrode tag-teamed to beat up on Nick Zeppos three years ago. The relationship between David Williams and Zeppos was reportedly quite strained, and if you want to get right down to it, I don’t think Nick had the guts to be able to deal with all of the personalities in the University the way he should have. So he hired unconventional, made him a lame duck, and got out more unscathed than he should. Chancellor Zeppos did nothing for Vanderbilt athletics, and it should never be forgotten. Far too often we memorialize the actions of former administrators without recognizing their flaws. What Zeppos did to the Vanderbilt athletic department was brutal, and what he left behind created an enormous mess. He deserves every bit of scorn from the players, their families, the coaches, the staffers, and the fan base.

What Vanderbilt cannot do is let the power vacuum after he chickened out control the future. There must be clear and principled leadership going forward. No waiting around, no punting decisions, but a principled approach to all aspects of athletics. Certain Vanderbilt administrators and faculty won’t like me saying this, but you’re going to have to respect that it’s athletics turn at the table. The football stadium is a joke. Memorial needs a lot of work. McGugin is no longer satisfactory in terms of serving the student-athletes needs. Its not hard to see that if you compare our facilities to any in the rest of the conference (and even some schools outside of the Power 5). You’ve let the problem fester out of a selfish pride, and you need to accept that it’s a failure to student-athletes who have to put in a ridiculous number of hours for you to get that SEC paycheck. Time to put up or shut up. You can do this right, but you need to stop acting like any money spent on athletics somehow hurts academics. That’s just not true.

2. Vanderbilt football players, coaches, fans, and supporters need to get real about what this program is about.

Vanderbilt is not state school U. It is not built to make football prodigies. It is special PRECISELY because it is different. It attracts a different kind of student, it attracts a special kind of athlete (one that wants the 40 year plan rather than the 4 year plan), and it rewards its student body with an opportunity and an experience that no other college in the conference, and I dare say the country, can offer. This isn’t to be shunned. It’s to be embraced. Therefore, what you need to accept is this. Vanderbilt football will NEVER wag the dog. You go to Vanderbilt for something you can’t get everywhere else. You get an all-around experience in one of the best cities in America. No, you will not be worshipped. No, you will not find a state of the art stadium that is ludicrously funded by public dollars. You’re not going to get the guys who are only in it for football. You’re going to get the players who want to rise to the challenge, academically and athletically, that frankly few dare to attempt. Those people are special. The school’s responsibility is to create an environment that takes those people and makes them great. That’s their part of the contract. They haven’t lived up to it, and they shouldn’t claim to have done so. But as a fan base, as a collective, we don’t need to lose sense of who we are. We’re the ONLY school in the SEC that can give you it all, but we need to acknowledge that giving people everything requires balance. So stop whining about how other schools have these enormous football facilities. Stop listening to the huge dollar figures that are discussing the gap between program A, and program B. FIGURE OUT WHAT WE CAN DO, AND DO IT. Then find a coach who purposefully targets that specific type of student-athlete. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.

Vanderbilt athletics has spent too much time mired in self-pity and pointing fingers. It’s time for purposeful direction. It’s time to ANCHOR THE F*CK DOWN.