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WTF Vandy? Administrative Failures, Round 2: (2) The Football Stadium Conundrum vs. (3) Ron Mercer Gets Denied

An aging football stadium not getting replaced, or admissions denying one of the top prospects in the country?

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NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

(2) The Vanderbilt Football Stadium Conundrum, Ongoing

So, yeah. Vanderbilt Stadium. Also known as Dudley Field or simply “The Dud.”

Originally built in 1922 and last renovated in 1981 — that’s 39 years ago — Vanderbilt Stadium was already showing its age when I was a student at Vanderbilt from 2006-08. The problems are myriad, but the basic problem is that while it’s still structurally sound, it hasn’t aged well and the seating is uncomfortable and the concourses aren’t wide enough and it’s just not a great place to watch a football game, and then you throw in the fact that the team frequently isn’t good and, well... it’s not exactly a place that’s on anybody’s bucket list.

Anyway, the plans for a new football stadium came into being late in 2011, coterminous with Vice Chancellor David Williams announcing a contract extension for James Franklin, who had just completed his first season as Vanderbilt’s football coach. At the time, it was never so much as a vague comment tossed in at the same time they announced plans for the indoor practice facility. That got built, and yet we seemed to spend the next few years hearing hints that the new stadium was coming.

So what happened? Well, there were never any firm plans for anything. Rumors have swirled for years that the university’s attitude toward athletics (and, presumably, a new football stadium) changed dramatically around the time four football players sexually assaulted a coed during the summer of 2013.

Fans started to get frustrated as the years went on and nothing happened — and when the university’s representatives did talk, it got progressively stupider. In 2016 — mind you, five years after David Williams first said the new stadium was coming — Williams was still working on preliminary plans for the new stadium, and at that point hoped to have it underway within three to four years. “Underway” within three to four years, five years after the plans were initially floated. And buried in that article was the notion that Williams was now debating whether the new stadium would be on campus or off campus, and things were about to get dumber.

Because the next phase in the new stadium discussion was the part where Vanderbilt started to float the idea of not only moving off campus, but moving into a new stadium that would be used primarily for soccer by Nashville’s yet-to-be-awarded MLS franchise. And said stadium would be located at the old Tennessee State Fairgrounds a few miles away from campus. That idea finally, eventually, got shot down, but after far longer than it ever should have taken for David Williams to say “no, that idea is dumb as hell and we are not going to do it.” But that ultimately just led to the timetable getting pushed back even further. In summer 2018, David Williams was now saying that even making a decision was now “two to three years away.”

But all that was before the real bombshell that came that August, when Adam Sparks reported that Vanderbilt had blocked the athletic department from hitting up specific donors, leading to Williams announcing his retirement (in what by all appearances was a hostage video) a month later. But, ya know, the beat goes on.

It’s been a full eight and a half years since David Williams said we were getting a new stadium. As far as I know, it’s not even in the planning stages at this point.

(3) Ron Mercer’s Application for Admission Gets Denied, 1995

Nobody knew why somebody didn’t say anything. Yes, it was obvious that Ron Mercer wasn’t going to have the best grades in the world when he decamped for Oak Hill Academy, but he was the best bud of Drew Maddux, the Vanderbilt basketball legacy tasked with carrying the team in the VBK era.

He didn’t have the grades, and Vanderbilt didn’t have any plans to accommodate someone who didn’t have the grades, and that was that. Problem was, nobody in the admissions office ever thought to send word to McGugin Hall, and nobody in McGugin ever thought to ask admissions “he’s going to get in, right?” With the end result that most of the fans took the arrival of Mercer to be as much a fait accompli as that of John Jenkins a decade-plus later...right up until he wasn’t.

If you think Kirkland is indifferent to athletics now, I invite you to consider those days. When a high-profile coach could leave with no attempt to retain him, and be replaced by whoever was available at the dollar amount they wanted to spend. The consensus in the student section is that VBK was just up there to look good at press conferences and save face after losing Fogler by being the “mama called” candidate. In any event, the notion that they were going to carve out a spot for Mercer, even knowing he’d be gone in two years - especially knowing he’d be gone in two years - was risible in the extreme.

And sure enough, he went to Kentucky. And he was part of the national championship squad. And he became another Local Boy That Got Away, just like Alex Poythress, just like so many others - and the proof that Vanderbilt and Kentucky weren’t really playing the same sport, a tradition that continues to this day.

Should he have been let in? Who knows. But it definitely shouldn’t have taken the rejection letter at the deadline for people to figure out things weren’t going to work out. Hopefully we’ve moved past that stage, at least.


Which moment advances?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Football stadium
    (79 votes)
  • 46%
    Ron Mercer
    (70 votes)
149 votes total Vote Now