Gridiron welfare

Some football fans complain that Vanderbilt collecting a big check each spring as part of the SEC's revenue-sharing plan is nothing more than welfare – the healthy picking up the tab for the lame.

That sentiment is somewhat understandable, given that Vandy has donated bowl revenue to the SEC coffers just twice in program history – following the 1974 Peach Bowl and the '82 Hall of Fame Bowl – while collecting from the league's bowl-revenue fund every year.

Because the Commodores have taken probably 100 times more cash from the league's revenue-sharing plan than they have put into it some observers favor ousting Vandy from the SEC. I'm not one of those observers.

Sure, I'd like to see the Dores do a better job of carrying their weight. Vandy's last winning season (8-4) was in 1982. Its last winning record in conference play (4-2) was the same year. The Commodores' league record since '82 is a putrid 29 wins and 156 losses.

Still, I can't agree with those who want the Dores dismissed from the league. The reason? Vandy cares. Consider:

Vandy cares about academics. It consistently ranks among the top five NCAA programs in classroom excellence. That boosts the image of a conference many outsiders believe overemphasizes athletics and all but ignores academics.

Vandy cares about competing. Even though Commodore football teams rarely win, they play most SEC opponents competitively. They beat Tennessee in 2005 and pushed Florida into overtime that same season. They beat Georgia in 2006 and whipped South Carolina in 2007. Interestingly enough, all four of those games were played on the road.

Vandy cares about the Tennessee game. No matter how bad the Dores might be – and some years they are putrid – they routinely give their heated in-state rival a good tussle. Three of the past four UT-VU meetings were decided by five points or less. In addition to winning at Knoxville in '05, Vandy came within a last-second field goal of duplicating the feat last November, ultimately losing 25-24.

I understand that a lot of Tennessee fans HATE Vanderbilt, and vice versa. I see that as a good thing, however. Hate is a powerful emotion that makes for good rivalries – the Yankees and Red Sox, the Packers and Bears, etc.

Hatred puts fannies in seats. More Vol fans showed up last fall to watch Tennessee host Vanderbilt (105,077) than turned out to see the Vols toy with Arkansas State (102,368) and Louisiana-Lafayette (96,197).

I enjoy the banter between Tennessee and Vanderbilt fans, even when it slips from good-natured to mean-spirited. College football is all about passion, and the Vol-Commodore matchup arouses passion on both sides.

Besides, where else could Tennessee find an opponent it can whip 24 times in 25 years without getting bored?

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