Friday, June 15, 2007

The Vanderbilt experiment

SEC talk two days in a row. What I should have added to yesterday's post about gender equity is that the SEC school tied with Tennessee for the highest mark (B+) in the recent Women's Sports Foundation study is Vanderbilt. Pretty darn good considering they don't even have an athletic department!

Let me repeat that: Vanderbilt University does not have an athletic department. They eliminated it four years ago and moved control of intercollegiate athletics to their department of student life. I remember hearing about this, but that was pre-blog days for me so I hadn't thought about it since. But last week Sports Illustrated published a column on the university and the success they have seen since the change. Once seen as the most lackluster school, in terms of athletics, in the SEC, Vandy teams have had enormous success (over half of the teams made it their respective tournaments this past year). And the athletes have had success off the field too, which was one of the main reasons for the change, according to Chancellor Gordon Gee, who made the controversial and much lambasted decision four years ago.

Gee wanted to make the term student-athlete a reality rather than rhetoric and the structural changes have certainly produced student-athletes who get involved in other activities in the university; socialize with non-athletes; and even travel abroad. And the average student-athlete GPA has risen a bit as well.

And, when many thought it would cost Vandy quality recruits, this system seems to actually appeal to recruits as evidenced by the outstanding athletes they have gotten to come to the school in the past few years, some of whom with continue in the professional ranks.

We talk about alternative models of sport a lot in sport studies disciplines but mostly at the level of recreational sport. And in general there is a lot of commentary about the corporatization of intercollegiate athletics. Vandy is an excellent example--at least it appears to be--of a different way of doing things. And yet no other institution has attempted anything similar.

[Thanks to The Dad for telling me about the SI story.]

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