Strike up the Vandy!
Chancellor's crusade against NCAA chaos is noble but, alas, doomed
I don't know what brought about this Jerry Maguire-like epiphany from Vanderbilt University Chancellor Gordon Gee, who on Tuesday decreed: "There is a wrong culture in athletics, and I'm declaring war on it."
But I do know that he'll be met with the same awkward silence and blank stares when he starts looking for allies. ... Who's coming with me?! ... Who's coming with me?!
"Nothing short of a revolution will stop what has become a crisis of conscience and integrity for colleges and universities in this country," Gee said.
Whoa, hold on there a minute, Gordon! I'm The Voice of Reason 'round these parts! I don't need no ivory-tower type trying to steal my lines. I mean, if anybody's going to be ridiculed for some foolishly na´ve notion about cleaning up college athletics, it's going to be me!
I loved your thoughts on weeding out the rogue element by incorporating your athletics department under the jurisdiction of intramural sports and student recreation activities, (he said, rolling his eyes and twirling his index finger around his temple.)
No, really. Brilliant stuff. (Cuck-oo! Cuck-oo!)
"Let there be no misunderstanding of our intention," Gee continued. "Vanderbilt is committed to competing at the highest levels in the Southeastern Conference and the NCAA, but we intend on competing consistent with the values of a world-class university."
While nobody knows how Gee's planned restructuring will change his school and/or others, I can say with some degree of certainty that Vanderbilt won't suffer a significant dropoff in victories on the football field because of it.
I kid because I care.
Gee's radical action loses some of its impact because of Vanderbilt's doormat status in the major sports in the SEC. Many already question the school's desire to field competitive teams and could interpret this as a backdoor dodge. Nothing more than a stunt from a program that already wasn't competing and the first steps toward dropping down in stature.
It's quixotic all right, but it's probably not a stunt.
I admire greatly what Gee is saying. More importantly, I admire what he's doing. Saying and Doing have always fallen under the jurisdictions of two separate and uncooperative NCAA unions. Why just this weekend in Chicago, BCS big dogs said they completed an "unbelievably productive and constructive" meeting by agreeing to meet again in a couple months. In New Orleans. Sounds like fun.
Gee's bold and earnest declaration of war comes in a most apocalyptic year for collegiate sports, which has run amok in scandal and malfeasance. We've always known that there were too many assistant coaches running around with corporate credit cards and too many athletes driving sweet rides they couldn't possibly afford, but this latest barrage of scandals has been jarringly and relentlessly shocking.
The time has never been more right for a fire-and-brimstone appeal for reform. The baby steps approach hasn't exactly prospered.
The NCAA doesn't need meetings in New Orleans. It needs widespread change in the way its athletes, coaches and, yes, administrators do business. They need to stop cheating, partying and gambling. And, hey, while they're at it, they might want to stop killing each other, too.
"There are many who say that the entrenched interests -- television, alumni, legislators, among others -- will never truly accept anything less than a continuation of the status quo," Gee said. "But that is simply unacceptable. As educators, we have an obligation to try to make things better. I love college sports. However, institutions of higher learning are in danger of being torn apart by the win-at-all-costs culture we have created for ourselves."
Is it possible that I'm adopted and this guy is my actual father? Can he at least adopt me? I want to go camping and to ballgames with him. I want him to teach me how to take care of a car, the planet and myself. I want him to teach me about girls.
I mean, my "real" father makes a lot of sense most of the time, but this Gordon Gee fellow ... my goodness, he is The Voice of Reason.
There will be plenty of public lauding of Gee's idealism. And there will be plenty of ridicule, too. He knows this. He knows there are plenty of good ol' boy athletic directors and coaches sitting in their posh offices right now saying, "He wants do to wh-ut now?"
"I just saw that this morning and I don't like it," said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden on Wednesday. "Gee whiz, I don't know what it's saying. You gotta trust your athletic department. You gotta hire good people, then you gotta trust 'em. If they don't do the job you get somebody else. I don't know what in the world that means."
What that means, coach, is that college athletics have become so bogged down in their own filth that we don't know who the "good people" are anymore. The inmates are running the asylum and Gee says it's time for a lockdown.
Maybe Bowden's fear is that someday he'll have to schedule practice time around the FSU intramural ultimate Frisbee league schedule. He might find his blocking sleds being used in the student theater production of Paper Lion. Or worse, those new gold and garnet uniforms will be put on hold because the math club went over budget on common denominators.
His biggest fear, of course, is the same as any big-time athletics department: that it starts being treated like every other department at the school.
Or worse, being held to the same standards of conduct.
That's all Gee is saying. It's really quite simple. It just takes a radical act to make it heard.
David Vecsey's Voice of Reason column appears weekly on SI.com.