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WTF Vandy? Bad Luck, Round 1: (2) Earl Bennett Gets Flagged vs. (7) Selection Sunday, 2000

Oh, two old wounds get reopened here.

Mississippi Rebels v Vanderbilt Commodores Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

(2) Earl Bennett Gets Flagged for Excessive Celebration at Florida, 2005

In 2005, Vanderbilt went to The Swamp to play the #13 Florida Gators. With 4:00 left in the game, Vanderbilt got the ball back after a Florida drive that took 8 minutes and 52 seconds and ended in a Gator touchdown to give the home team a 14-point lead. Jay Cutler went 7 of 10 passing to march 61 yards in 1:54 to get the Commodores within 7 points. Bryant Hahnfeldt’s onside kick was bobbled by a Florida player then recovered by Andrew Pace. Cutler would go 3 of 8, but he completed two critical throws on 3rd down. Then Smokin’ Jay zipped a pass to Earl Bennett in the back of the end zone to get the score to 35-34 pending the extra point. Head Coach Bobby Johnson was going to call a timeout and almost certainly attempt a 2-Point Conversion, but there was some yellow laundry on the field.

Earl Bennett had danced and gotten called for excessive celebration. The receiver who caught the crucial touchdown had shown his freshman immaturity and done something to draw the ire of the officials. A chance to win the game in regulation was squandered by a player not controlling his emotions. Then ESPN2 showed the replay. The officials were apparently trained by this guy.

After Bennett’s footloose moment, Hahnfeldt would make the extra point, and Vanderbilt stopped Florida’s last drive. The Commodores would then score first in overtime before the Gators scored on their 2 straight drives. Unfortunately, Jay Cutler’s first pass of 2OT would be picked off to end the upset bid.

Now, Vanderbilt may not have scored on the 2PT Conversion attempt and lost anyway. It does not matter. Earl Bennett’s shoulder shrug and chest bump is the least celebrating I can imagine a player doing after scoring such an important touchdown against a highly ranked opponent. I wish the ref had to explain what was excessive about the celebration. It probably has something to do with the jersey Earl was wearing.

By the way, this is my second memory of Vanderbilt athletics. The first will appear in this space tomorrow. I am sure this moment means different things depending on a person’s stage of Vanderbilt fandom when it happened. For me, it was a crushing announcement of reality. The Commodores are doomed to always screw it up or get screwed. How am I still the Sunshine Pumper President? I guess I just need a reason to dance like Earl.

(7) Vanderbilt Gets Hosed by the Selection Committee, 2000

Kevin Stallings’ final Vanderbilt team got into the NCAA Tournament when it probably shouldn’t have, but that may have simply been karmic payback for his first Vanderbilt team.

Stallings took over for Jan van Breda Kolff in 1999, and with Dan Langhi (who would share SEC Player of the Year honors) pacing the team, Vanderbilt got off to a fast start. The Commodores were 9-1 at the end of December, then opened SEC play with five consecutive games against ranked teams (Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU, and Kentucky again) and won three of them. That run got Vanderbilt ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1994, and, on February 9, their record was 16-4 and 6-3 in the SEC. They’d pick up a huge win, an 85-72 win over #5 Tennessee in Knoxville, completing a season sweep of the hated Vols, but then they limped to the finish line — finishing the season at 19-10 after losing to LSU in the SEC Tournament.

Still, even with the weak finish, you had to figure that Vanderbilt’s resume would merit a tournament bid. The Commodores were ranked 39 in the RPI and owned four wins over sure-fire NCAA Tournament teams, and their strength of schedule ranked 47.

And Vanderbilt didn’t get in.

One possible explanation was that Arkansas, which went from out of the field to in by winning four games in four days at the SEC Tournament, simply stole Vanderbilt’s bid in the process. It’s common knowledge that the Selection Committee will often have “contingency” brackets in place for when a team is playing on Sunday and might steal a bid. That could have happened, but it seems less likely considering Arkansas played its first-round game in Nashville.

Instead, this was probably just a screwup. The NCAA went with UNLV (23-7, 51 RPI, 148 SOS) and Pepperdine (24-8, 52 RPI, 137 SOS) for a couple of the last few spots in the tournament, suggesting that they were more impressed by shiny objects (23 wins!) than they were by underlying metrics. As much as people hated the RPI, one of the most frustrating things about it was the NCAA’s tendency to ignore it when they felt like it. (Making this whole episode even more infuriating: that Pepperdine team was coached by none other than Jan van Breda Kolff, who would end Bob Knight’s Indiana tenure in the first round.)


Which moment advances?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    Earl Bennett
    (105 votes)
  • 13%
    2000 Selection Show
    (17 votes)
122 votes total Vote Now