News this week of Missouri's Board of Curators (curators? Like a museum? O... K...) considering leaving Texas's Big X(II) in favor of another athletic conference, presumably the SEC, garnered little excitement and a fair amount of smug derision. What does Missouri offer the Southeastern Conference other than yet another team with a tiger mascot? Does Mizzou football, which is what this is really about, water down what is considered the dominant conference in college football? Heady talk for a conference that counts Vanderbilt as a member.
In the infrequent times that I do think about Vanderbilt and, by extension, their athletics program, I admit bafflement at their inclusion. Of course, as the parking garage informants say, follow the money and everything comes clear. As a member of the SEC, Vandy receives their equal share of television revenues in excess of $20 million per annum, but God knows what they do with it. Perhaps only God.
Vanderbilt, as a private institution, need not deign to disclose what they do with their money. They need not disclose how much or how little of it is put back into athletics, institutionally or individually. Plus, it's their money. And if the lords and ladies of Peabody Street sleep well running a grift on the sweat of mostly poor, mostly minority students who never get a whiff of the opportunities that $20 large provides--hey, sail on, Commodore.
Not too long ago Vanderbilt, under the guidelines set out by then-president Gordon Gee, dissembled their athletic department proper and integrated their sports programs under the oversight of school chancellors, the same folks in charge of the student rec center and intramural co-ed water polo. At the time, some--Gee the loudest among them--heralded this as a watershed moment of pulling collegiate athletics away from the brink, of salvaging the spirit and intent of true amateurism.
Since then, conferences have imploded and expanded over television markets, the Heisman Trophy was awarded to an admitted auctionee, Gee took a job at Ohio State overseeing its players receiving cash payments, and Vanderbilt has pocketed totals approaching $100 million for its amateur athletics. Amazingly though, as Gordon Gee is an insufferable gasbag, hypocrisy is his most likable quality.
One is reminded of the original Vanderbilt con artist, the university's namesake and benefactor, the Commodore, who in order to monopolize industrial transportation from South America sent William Walker to Nicaragua with orders to overthrow the government. Walker's was the problem of too much success too easily, leaving him feeling no obligation to those stateside, including the Commodore. Up until the firing squad, things worked out pretty well for him too.
With that we, at last, have our metaphor for Vandy football. Too much money, too easily gained eventually comes at a price. And despite their 3-1 start on the season, the Commodores face the first shots of their firing squad tomorrow in Tuscaloosa.
At least, they better. Some of us in these parts actually give a damn about football.