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June 17, 2004

Progress Report On Vanderbilt’s Athletics Re-Org

FROM NASHVILLE’S INSTITUTION OF GENTEEL ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE comes an eight month progress report on the abolition of Vanderbilt’s athletic department (as we know it).

It was in September 2003 that Chancellor Gordon Gee announced a sweeping re-org that shifted Vandy’s athletics department toward significantly more integration with “everyday campus affairs.” No longer would the athletics department be an entity unto itself, with separate (but not particularly equal) housing, academics and extracurricular activities.

One of the biggest changes was the “reassignment” of AD Todd Turner to a nebulous “assistant-to” position and the outright riddance of the athletic director position. Instead, the athletic “program” (as it came to be called, not “department”) was assigned to the vice chancellor for university life.

The ensuing success of Vanderbilt’s teams—Sweet 16 success for both men’s and women’s basketball teams, and national rankings for all but one spring sports team—has curbed criticism of the re-org thus far.

But the re-org had little to do with the teams’ successes, since the coaching staffs and athletes were all recruited under the old regime. Former AD Turner says, “The success of the teams has nothing to do with reorganization. That has everything to do with people. And if the reorganization assists those people in reaching their goals, then I’m all for it. But if it keeps the teams from being competitive and doing the right things on and off the field, then I will be concerned.”

Vanderbilt is one of a small group of top tier schools that could actually pull off such a bold experiment. There are only so many outstanding student-athletes available. Once Vandy, Stanford, Northwestern, Rice, Duke, Southern Cal and Notre Dame pick over the available high school talent, then there’s not much left over—academically at least—for the rest.

For example, such a re-org would be disastrous at Ohio State, which was one of Mr. Gee’s stops before coming to Vanderbilt.

Swaggering in the current topspin of the re-org, Chancellor Gee is immodest in his acclamation, “The very reasons that presidents can’t get it done are the very reasons they have to make it happen, because university presidents are no longer in charge of athletics.”


Easy to do at Vanderbilt, not so easy to do elsewhere.

(this 373 word excerpt—with attendant commentary—was distilled from a 1400 word article in the June 2004 issue of Athletic Business)