Vandy Takes Lead, But Who Will Follow?

Recently Vanderbilt University made news for something other than good academics and bad football. Its chancellor, Gordon Gee, announced some rather revolutionary changes regarding athletics. He left no doubts about his intent when he proclaimed that “there is a wrong culture in athletics, and I’m declaring war on it.”

The opening skirmish was to kill off Vanderbilt’s athletic department as a separate entity. He said that with the skewed priorities over Division 1-A sports “the tail is always wagging the dog.”

Gee, whose previous presidential stints were at West Virginia, Colorado, Ohio State and Brown, also proposed tying graduation rates to scholarships and linking TV and conference revenues to graduation rates. He also wants every athlete to complete a core curriculum, thus assuring that “graduation” actually means something.

“We know the model we have right now is broken,” underscored Gee.

The only thing wrong with Vanderbilt advocating such radical changes is that it’s, well, Vanderbilt doing the advocating. They have little to lose. In football, they lose anyhow.

Would that it were Ohio State, where Maurice Claret seems finished with his suspension-shortened, sham-student, pro football apprenticeship. Or maybe Auburn, where former coach Terry Bowden said boosters had paid recruits to sign, a scenario that surprised no one close to the program. Or a bunch of other places where, if it weren’t for double standards, there would be no standards for major college football and basketball players.

So, Chancellor Gee’s efforts notwithstanding, the genie of “student-athlete” mercenaries and the corrupting influence of network television and athletic-shoe companies isn’t likely to be rebottled any time soon. It’s more likely Brown will play in a BCS bowl.

But kudos to Gee for taking such a public stand. But it is too bad, however, that he didn’t take such a principled stance when he was at West Virginia, Colorado or Ohio State. That could have been meaningful, not symbolic and quixotic. Then, again, he probably would have been run out of Morgantown, Boulder or Columbus for his heresy.

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