Right now, there is a truly horrific combination of circumstances unfolding at the University of Tennessee. Multiple women are suing the university for enabling a culture of tolerance around sexual assault, and it’s being alleged that a football player who came to the defense of a woman was ostracized and ultimately physically attacked by his teammates, that the (current) head football coach referred to him as a “traitor”, and now, in a live press conference, the athletic director is making the argument that “bad things happen if you choose to go out at night.”
This is going to seem like I’m trying to score points at the expense of a rival, and it really isn’t. I don’t think you have to do much to score points in comparison to UT in most anything, save for maybe four hours a year on the football field, but it’s instructive to compare what happened when four Vanderbilt football players – all new to the program within a year – were implicated in a truly ghastly assault. In that instance, they were reported to the police by the university. Less than 48 hours after that, they were kicked off the team, kicked out of school and barred from campus. Their case went into criminal prosecution, not any kind of administrative internal process, and when a fifth player – whose character and conduct in all other regards was above reproach – was sent an incriminating message by one of the four, and told him to “delete that shit,” that fifth player was kicked off the team as well and referred for criminal prosecution, whereupon he took a plea deal and gave evidence against the four.
I say all that not to laud Vanderbilt, because that’s what ought to happen. You don’t get a cookie for doing the shit you’re supposed to do. Somebody does wrong, you prosecute them, you expel them, you don’t bury things or hush them up or slide it under the rug with some vague student-judiciary kangaroo court. And yet, while that’s what Vanderbilt does, it doesn’t seem to be what anyone else does. Consider Tennessee, consider Florida State and the Jameis Winston horseshit, consider the allegations around Treon Harris at Florida, consider any number of things. Throw a dart, you’ll hit a football program with a rape problem somewhere.
This is what you have to compete against. You can try to play clean, you can try to do the right thing, you can do everything in your power to abide by the law and get your players to do the same – and then they have to go out and go up against other programs where the standard is “we’ll hush things up and get you off the hook.” Programs where all manner of misconduct – academic, criminal, whatever – is quietly buried for the sake of maximizing the win total. And how the fuck are you meant to compete in a league and a sport that says “anything goes” without burying yourself in the muck?
I’ve said for years that Vanderbilt shouldn’t be in the SEC. I believe it, and I stand by it. It’s just that now I’m starting to wonder whether maybe we just shouldn’t be in the college football business at all.