How Vanderbilt Almost Lost the Football Program
Photo Credit To John Russell/Vanderbilt Athletics

How Vanderbilt Almost Lost the Football Program

Vanderbilt students and supporters wore “Save Dudley” pins during the Sept. 9 game against Alabama A&M.

It worked, for now at least.

Vanderbilt University announced Wednesday that it won’t partake on a proposed shared-stadium with Major League Soccer in Nashville – in which Nashville placed a bid for a franchise.

The stadium location would be at the Fairgrounds in Nashville, two miles from the Vanderbilt campus. However, Vanderbilt is still looking at using the potential stadium for one or two football games a year, if built. The MLS will decide the expansion city in December.

Those select games  more than likely will be non-conference matchups against inferior competition such as an Alabama A&M.

“We are excited at the prospect of a Major League Soccer franchise in Nashville as it further exemplifies our city’s rise as a dynamic and diverse global community. While we plan to continue to support Nashville’s bid for an MLS team, we are not moving Vanderbilt football off campus. Dudley Field will remain the home of Commodores football.

If it meets the needs of our fans, students, alumni and team, this could also include leasing the stadium for a football game, similar to what we have done in the past with Nissan Stadium, which received a great response from our community.” – Vanderbilt University

Athletic Director David Williams’ hands are tied, as he is a puppet for the Board of Trustees within the university. The Commodores new home would be the fairgrounds permanently, if no compromise was reached to hold at least a football game at the Fairgrounds. One could suggest Williams had to fight Chancellor Zeppos for the stadium compromise.

Vanderbilt’s announcement comes before Nashville’s MLS ownership group — led by well-known businessman and Vanderbilt donor John Ingram, along with Mayor Megan Barry’s administration.

Together, they are expected to unveil a funding proposal for an MLS stadium in October. The stadium will house 30,000 seats.

Vanderbilt made the right move to ultimately save its football program and save its athletics reputation. The Vanderbilt administration after so many years of neglect, finally listened to all of the Vandy faithful.

Many older generations of fans, and all those that remain loyal spent childhood memories there, and simply put – college football belongs on campus to benefit everyone involved. Ask Tulane who recently moved back to campus in 2014 because of attendance decline.

Additionally, Georgia fans took over Notre Dame’s stadium in Week 2 traveling in absolute masses. So, there’s that Vanderbilt attendance narrative.

Many Commodore supporters had warned that a program that has historically struggled with attendance would face even more troubles.

James Franklin, Vanderbilt’s most successful football coach to date, rallied the fan base together. Now after a period of adjustment for then first time Head Coach Derek Mason, he seems to be on the right track as well.

Consistent winning will tremendously aid attendance issues, given that the Vanderbilt faithful haven’t had much to cheer about with the exception of select seasons.

Build the fans trust.

A successful football program will do wonders for the exposure of the school itself, and Vanderbilt’s other programs like basketball need to see support as well in terms of facility renovation to keep momentum going.

Vanderbilt started the 2017 season 3-1, and looks to head another bowl game while also becoming a potential force within the SEC East.

Moreover, the off-campus stadium would be used against the ‘Dores on the recruiting trail, as current commitments expressed their displeasure. Vanderbilt currently has the 30th ranked class in the country according to 247 Sports.

The question now is will the Vanderbilt administration step up to the plate and reach out to additional avenues for outsourced fundraising for Vanderbilt Stadium?

Well, even with no upgrades, it’s much better than the off-campus option.

Perhaps everyone will have to play the waiting game for those upgrades, too.

But the one positive in this whole ordeal is the Vanderbilt community and Commodore fans were taken seriously for the first time in quite a long time— and that’s something you can hang your hat on.

The Commodores face No. 21 Florida on Saturday in Gainesville with kickoff set for 11 a.m. on ESPN.

The ‘Dores return home for Homecoming with a matchup against No. 7 Georgia on Oct. 7.

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