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Transparency in Athletics at Vanderbilt

Is Vanderbilt’s tight-lipped style good business or does it breed suspicion?

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

One of the reasons I decided to return to blogging, aside from having a bit more time on my hands, is that two decisive viewpoints have emerged in how Vanderbilt handles it’s athletic image. Having heard both sides of this argument, I wanted to try to find a forum that was less “noisy” in order to discuss the issue, and perhaps generate ideas how to find a middle ground between the two.

Vanderbilt has treated media exposure pretty similarly to how they did back in the early part of the decade, with certain exceptions that arose during the James Franklin era. For the most part though, they have kept how they operate under the vest, and as a private institution, it’s hard to compel them to do otherwise. Adam Sparks and Joe Rexrode did manage to get a peep out of Nick Zeppos after running tag-team pieces on issues in athletic department funding. They may have even spurred action in Zeppos’ eventual hiring of Malcolm Turner, an unconventional choice who left the school after a year, but not before he gobbled up a rumored, but never confirmed surplus from the athletics coffers with naught a renovation to show for it.

The past 24 months has basically shown the two media strategies and the effects thereof. That is to say, you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. What makes Vanderbilt different among it’s SEC brethren is that while they like to associate themselves with the conference, they don’t have any desire to be like the other schools. That truth is difficult to package in a world where media only cares about who won the conference championship and not any other aspect of the schools. Of course, the media is also giving the public what they want in that process, and since Vanderbilt is the beneficiary of a large joint-sum due to ESPN’s partnership with the SEC, they really don’t get much of a platform to change that narrative.

Of course, when you do make a promise at Vanderbilt, if you don’t keep it you’re going to get slammed. This happened to David Williams when he built some initial hype about a new football facility in 2016. The problem was that not everyone was on the same page of how to accomplish the goal, and the issue was decidedly pushed with basically nary a word of why. Again, Vanderbilt doesn’t have to say anything at all about it. But that leads to speculation, and in some cases even animosity, where that might not actually be due. The blame for the past half decade has been placed on Zeppos, Williams, Administrators in Kirkland, the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, the Board of Trust, and even the faculty.

To me, the best course of action is for Candace Storey Lee, Daniel Diermeier, and Vanderbilt as a whole to develop and finalize this strategic plan that has supposedly been in the works for 4 years, or 6 months, or who knows how long, and actually put something out there that is defined in dollars and cents. You’re never going to get a palatial football facility like your SEC brethren, but when you’re building Hogwarts-like dorms on West End it becomes a little difficult for you to cry poor. A seriously competitive athletic department can enhance the University’s profile in untold ways, as it has done with Tim Corbin and his elite baseball program. But whichever stakeholders truly have the power must get on board and stay on board. There is really only one unacceptable maneuver now that Chancellor Diermeier and Candace Storey Lee are on board, and that is to do nothing, because Vanderbilt’s faithful are quite tired of seeing nothing.