In an effort to bolster football attendance and alter a frat/sorority scene recently ranked #1 in the nation by Princeton Review, Vanderbilt administrators voted last Spring to minimize one of Greek Row’s biggest and most joyous traditions: game-day tailgates. In his debut article, SkipToMyLou breaks down TailgateGate: the new tailgate regulations, their implications, and an obvious alternative to the controversial rules.
What happened to summer? It seems like not too long ago that I was at Dan McGuiness with 6000 of my closest Vandy friends, celebrating the end of exams in a very mild-mannered, relaxed, and sober setting. Now it’s August, and we are only weeks away from the return to Cashville, and – subsqequently and inevitably – a return to Dan’s. Summer disappeared more quickly than an unattended case during rush.
But it’s not all bad. After all, going back to school means sundresses, great weather, reuniting with friends, good music, sundresses, late night Patty Melts at Paradise Park, and sundresses. More than any of those things, though, it means the return of SEC football games to Vanderbilt’s campus!
Okay, just kidding. To a large portion of Vandy’s campus the excitement surrounding football season has almost nothing to do with football. It has to do with Vineyard Vines ties, sorority stickers, shotgunned beers, and Old Crow Medicine Show – and sundresses. What happens on Vandy’s field generally plays second fiddle to what happens on Greek Row’s porches. “We scored how many points?” almost always comes second to “Dude, we drank how much Franzia?” I’m not necessarily saying this is how it should be, but merely that this is how it is – not to everyone, but to many.
And this year, tailgates seem to again be overshadowing football – except this time it is for completely different reasons. This year, tailgates are a central issue of the football season because of the controversy surrounding the new regulations that require them to end thirty minutes prior to kickoff. This was a really poor decision. This was about as well thought out as late-night security at Branscomb Munchie Mart (“Hundreds of hammered, hungry, cheap college kids? Naaah, they wouldn’t steal… Would they?”).
Before you say “Oh great, another entitled, self-centered Greek prick who only cares about boozing and can’t believe anyone would go to a Vandy game,” get this: I do go to the games. I have been to nearly every Vanderbilt Commodores home football game since I was a freshman – and on time too. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am a brother in Beta and I actually go to the football games. And I don’t play lacrosse. I don’t know how I got a bid either.
The point is, I am not hating on these new rules because I think getting drunk should be championed over supporting your school, or because I think going to Vandy football games is dumb – I don’t think either of those things. I want more people to come to the games, but I think in mandating these new rules, Vandy’s administration completely missed the point. Look, I get the rationale here. The show of support at Vanderbilt football games is awesomely pathetic. Any trace of black and gold in the stands is swallowed by a tsunami of opposing colors. If at a Vandy-Florida game you relied on pure colors alone to tell you where you were, you would guess Madison Square Garden before Dudley Field. That lack of homefield advantage is miserable. It fails to both pump up the players and excite the students who do make it to the game. But shutting down tailgates is not the way to generate the spirit the school, the team, and the fans want. You know what might do the trick? Duh. Winning.
There’s a reason why many people who make it to tailgates don’t make it to the game. And it’s not because of a lack of school spirit. If that were the case, baseball games wouldn’t be so well attended. If that were the case, Memorial wouldn’t be filled to the brim with students, some of whom are indifferent about basketball and don’t even know the difference between a field goal and a field goal if you know what I mean (if you don’t, you’re probably one of these people). The reason is that it’s not fun for anyone, no matter how much school spirit they have, to watch their teams repeatedly lose.
Hypothetical situation. It’s 75 degrees and gorgeous out. You are surrounded by beautiful girls (in sundresses, of course). Your eardrums reverberate with the vibrations of great music – sometimes country, sometimes rap, sometimes Miley. You are lost in an Eden of fist pumps, elevated-surface dancing, and an endlessly refreshing flow of the icy cold and perpetually delicious Natural Light. Your buddy approaches you, tie askew and shirt soaked with who knows what – sweat, beer, Honeybee McDougal’s sauce maybe? – and says, “Hey do you want to go sit in the hot sun, ease slowly but painfully into a hangover, and watch our school struggle to advance the ball into the opposing team’s territory?” Granted that’s glorified and overly negative, but, nonetheless, you can see where the apathy stems from.
You can force feed school spirit to those who don’t attend games by shutting down the tailgates, but that’s only going to breed hostility. And for those of us lonely souls who do go to the games, we are slowly losing hope. Despite what these new regulations imply, it’s not really about a lack of spirit or the prominence of tailgates. It’s about not wanting to ruin the bliss of a September Saturday in Nashville with the discouragement of another deflating letdown at Dudley.
I want to make clear that this is not at all meant to be a shot at the Vanderbilt football team, its players, or its coaches. I could not do what they do. And it’s not like they want to lose. I know firsthand how painful it is to have zero support from your school. No, I don’t play any D1 sports – well club soccer (to quote Ultimate Lax Bro Brantford Winstonworth, “It’s at the club level, but I’m DI and I’m having fun and I’m living my life.”) – but I did play for a laughably pathetic high school basketball program. In my four years playing for Wilton High School of the esteemed basketball mecca Wilton, Connecticut, I compiled a whopping 18 wins and 102 losses (I was double-rostered for two of those years). We weren’t trying to lose. We didn’t like being embarrassed or the laughing stock of the league. But as frustrating as it was, I knew I couldn’t fault the students for not coming because it’s not fun to watch your school lose. You want fans, you need to win. Or at least have a history of winning.
Many proponents of the new regulations have argued that tailgates are a privilege, and thus students should be lucky to have any tailgate at all. Are tailgates a privilege? Um, yeah I guess in a way they are. But that’s also like saying getting flashed at Mardi Gras is a privilege. You don’t – and shouldn’t – go to Mardi Gras specifically for that reason (unless you’re one of those 40-50 year olds who just refuses to hang up the Spring Break dream or you work for Girls Gone Wild). You go to experience the unique and crazy culture, the parades, the late nights at Café du Monde. But you know that – most likely – at some point you will look up to find two breasts staring down at you from a balcony above. Likewise, you go to Vanderbilt for the great education, the awesome surrounding city, the beautiful campus. But it’s an SEC school and that means tailgates. Take those away and we may as well have just gone to Duke. Like boobs on Bourbon, it’s more tradition than privilege.
Another SEC tradition? Great football. And right now, that is not something that Vandy has. I know our players face immense challenges. There’s nothing easy about being a student at a top-20 school, and there’s nothing easy about being an athlete on an SEC football team. So they should all be proud to be a student-athlete at a place that owns both those titles. For one, they actually have to live up to the former half of that title. They have to take and go to difficult classes. I know they practice hard and want to win. And I know they are extremely dedicated and take it very seriously. I am not trying to diminish any of that. The administration just needs to realize it is a two-way street: if you want more fans, then be proactive about improving the program. Many of us have exceptional school pride, are very proud of our football players, and enjoy supporting our friends on the team even when they don’t win. That constituency will keep coming to every game. But if the administration really wants to rally the tailgate-going masses to come to the football games, it won’t come from marginalizing the tailgates. It will come from making the program better.
I’m not saying we’ve got to go all Ohio State and give recruits free stuff (But you could. It seems like every competitive football team is cheating and committing major recruitment violations. Trying to recruit without breaking the rules is like trying to set the home run record without steroids in the steroid era. You might do pretty well without them – think Griffey, Jr. – but you certainly aren’t winning it all – think Barry Bonds. Essentially our recruiting pitch is “You can come to our SEC school, take really hard classes, have a lot of homework to do, and win 3 or 4 games in a good year, or you can go to another SEC school, be larger-than-life celebrities, and compete for an SEC and National Championship.” How do you overcome that? Free Escalades and bottle service at Club Mai, baby!)** but if we want more fans at the games, we have to do something to improve our football program. Maybe that means allotting a bigger football budget (the school has to have money lying around from those egregiously overpriced textbooks, right?) that can be put towards new facilities to impress recruits or towards better coaching salaries to lure big-time coordinators.
To be fair, the new locker room looks great. And James Franklin has already proved himself a fantastic hire. He has done a phenomenal job promoting the program and getting the players excited and inspired. Not to mention he has been killing it on the recruiting trail, locking up a number of highly touted recruits and even wooing all-star Tennessee native Brian Kimbrow away from suitors like USC, Notre Dame, and Auburn. With four four-star recruits and seven three-star recruits already locked up, Franklin has given Vandy the twenty-third ranked recruiting class of 2012. I know that improvement will not happen overnight and so this progress is very encouraging. The impact Franklin has already had, and the playmaking ability of players like Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, is exciting enough for me to keep me going to the games this year, to see what kind of turnaround he, and they, can engineer. And that could be the storyline of this year: the emergence of James Franklin and the return of hope to Vanderbilt’s football program and enthusiasm to its fans. But instead, the administration has both antagonized many of the tailgate-going fans it was hoping to rejuvenate and posited, at a time when we should be eagerly speculating about a potential resurgence of Vandy football, TailgateGate at the forefront of the 2011 season conversation.
And that’s the most ironic part of this whole thing: the administration’s new regulations have succeeded in overshadowing, eclipsing, and undercutting the very support it was trying to promote.
**I don’t actually advocate cheating, but I do think it’s important to point out (what I think is) the reality of the college football recruiting world today.
SkipToMyLou is a writer for Vandybubble. If you agree or disagree with his stance on TailgateGate, write a comment below or tweet us @Vandybubble. For more information on tailgates in general, make it out to Greek Row on game-day. We’re also very interested to see what goes down a half-hour before the first football game and how the rules are enforced.