By Russell Lorentz, for Vandy Insider
Vanderbilt fans remember Nicholas Zeppos’ “rocket ship” when James Franklin was introduced, promising his new head coach the resources needed to make the program successful. Now everyone is once again looking for it in 2017 under Derek Mason, despite the recently expanded recruiting budget.
Vanderbilt traditionally has had a fairly hard time filling the 40,550 seat stadium, without the help of 8 to 12 thousand opposing fans. Granted, the Vanderbilt fan base is smaller than its counterparts, while having the least undergraduate enrollment among any institution in the Southeastern Conference, in turn averaging just 31,242 fans in six home contests in 2016.
But Vanderbilt has fans, as the Vanderbilt faithful came out in absolute droves traveling to bowl games in Memphis, Birmingham, and home in Nashville during James Franklin’s tenure.
The Commodores most recently sealed a trip to Shreveport to play in the Camping World Independence Bowl in 2016 under Mason’s watch. With success, should come a greater investment into renovation of the stadium especially if Vanderbilt wishes to draw more fans.
However, with the exception of a select few home games during both Franklin and Mason’s time at Vanderbilt the in-game atmosphere hasn’t been there inside the confines of Vanderbilt Stadium on a consistent basis.
Fans have wanted a new or improved Vanderbilt Stadium for quite some time, and their voices were heard, but the long awaited reply certainly was not what many hoped.
In an Adam Sparks article published by the Tennessean in September 2016, Vice Chancellor of Athletics David Williams hinted at the idea of a brand new stadium at the exact location of the current stadium, however Williams stance seems to have changed.
According to Sparks, Williams and John Ingram, a major Vanderbilt Athletics donor, are at the forefront of a committee that would have Vanderbilt share a stadium with a Major League Soccer franchise in which Nashville is considered a landing spot. Williams sent an email to undergraduates, season-ticket holders, and single-game ticket buyers for their input, adding that a new shared stadium would provide additional revenue for Vanderbilt Football as a whole.
Surveying students makes the least of sense, because students do not show in the masses at Vanderbilt Football home games, if you’ve been to a game recently. Both Franklin and Mason have pleaded with them promoting the Commodores, even when they were successful. If they will not show at the home games what makes you think they’ll go to an alternate location?
College football is meant to be played on campus, because it unifies students and fans of the like, certainly David Williams can understand that.
With so much to do in Nashville, perhaps the stadium issue could be an Athletics lack of willingness to market the football program, paired with the fact that Vanderbilt Stadium just does not look the part of an SEC stadium although it has improved slightly. A state of the art indoor practice facility was installed in 2013, but more recently the McGugin Center was facelifted.
Per the Duke University Athletics website, a renovation of $100 million was completed to Wallace Wade Stadium on campus which was completed by the 2016 home opener.
Due to the facility upgrades, attendance at Wallace Wade Stadium grew by 13 percent, the third highest in all of college football in 2016, according to Adam Rowe of CBS Sports.
Therefore, a similar academic institution like Vanderbilt must realize it is in the SEC where football is of utmost importance. It’s time for the Vanderbilt Administration to wake up, improve the current stadium and realize it’s time to launch the rocket ship once again.