Under the new organization, Vanderbilt will bring together intercollegiate sports and recreational activities for students in a single department that will be part of the Division of Student Life and University Affairs. In addition, the University will take a leadership role in the national reform agenda for college sports.
"For too long, college athletics has been segregated from the core mission of the University. As a result, we have created a culture, both on this campus and nationally, that is disconnected from our students, faculty and other constituents, where responsibility is diffuse, the potential for abuse considerable and the costs — both financial and academic — unsustainable," said Gee. "Nothing short of a revolution will stop what has become a crisis of conscience and integrity for colleges and universities in this country. Let there be no misunderstanding of our intention: Vanderbilt is committed to competing at the highest levels in the Southeastern Conference and the NCAA, but we intend on competing consistent with the values of a world-class university."
Gee has asked David Williams II, vice chancellor for student life and university affairs, himself one of the most respected executives in college athletics, to lead the development of this new structure. Before joining Vanderbilt in 2000, Williams served as vice president for student life and community affairs at Ohio State University, where the nation's largest intercollegiate athletic program reported to him.
In the most significant change, Vanderbilt will combine the programs and operations of its varsity sports with those of student recreation, intramurals and community sports programs into the new Office of Student Athletics, Recreation and Wellness. Assistant Vice Chancellor Brock Williams, a longtime Vanderbilt administrator, will directly oversee the day-to-day internal operations of the new office, which is now responsible for 14 varsity sports, more than 300 varsity student athletes, 37 club sports with more than 1,000 participants and an active student intramural program.
Other changes will affect the operational and support elements for Vanderbilt athletics:
- Management of all sports facilities, including Vanderbilt Stadium, Memorial Gymnasium, Charles Hawkins Field, the Currey Tennis Center, as well as the Student Recreation Center and playing fields, will be consolidated in a new Office of Facilities and Conferences initially under the leadership of Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Life Steve Caldwell. This will allow Vanderbilt to accommodate student activities as well as additional community programs and conference services.
- The University's award-winning Division of Public Affairs, led by Vice Chancellor Michael Schoenfeld, will assume responsibility for athletics media relations, marketing, broadcasting, publications and websites, working in close coordination with the Office of Student Athletics, Recreation and Wellness.
- The National Commodore Club will continue to serve fans and donors under the aegis of Robert Early, executive associate vice chancellor for development and alumni relations, along with the Major Gifts Office and annual fundraising campaigns.
- Financial and administrative operations, including the ticket office, will be combined with the Division of Student Life and University Affairs under the leadership of Patricia Marett, associate vice chancellor and chief of staff for the Division of Student Life and University Affairs.
- Lucius T. Outlaw, associate provost and professor of philosophy and African American studies, will assess and assist in making any necessary changes to better coordinate the academic support activity with academic advising provided by the faculty.
"This is about students and coaches," said Gee. "We have assembled perhaps the best cadre of coaches in this country. They are dedicated to team success and individual growth, and we will provide them an environment in which they can thrive as members of a vibrant and enthusiastic university community in which they are valued as teachers and mentors."
Todd Turner, who has served as director of athletics since 1996, has been asked to serve as special assistant to the Chancellor for athletic/academic reform. In this expanded role, Turner would focus on advancing a national agenda for the reform of intercollegiate athletics. Turner currently serves as chairman of the NCAA's Incentives and Disincentives Committee, which has developed proposals for sweeping changes designed to improve the academic performance of athletes.
"Vanderbilt cannot be a passive observer of athletic reform on the national scene — we simply must be an active participant," said Gee. "And the only way we can do that is to have a full-time, constant presence at the highest levels. Todd is a forceful and respected advocate for the highest ideals of college sports."
Under Turner's leadership, Vanderbilt completed its most expansive capital construction project in its history, building or renovating state-of-the-art facilities for football, baseball, soccer, lacrosse and golf while achieving significant success in a number of sports. The University was also recognized for its consistently high academic achievement and graduation rates of student athletes.
Gee said he hoped the new Vanderbilt structure could be a model for other universities seeking respite from the increasing disenfranchisement of big-time athletics programs from the university, but he is under no illusion that systemic changes will be quick or easy.
"There are many who say that the entrenched interests — television, alumni, legislators, among others — will never truly accept anything less than a continuation of the status quo," said Gee. "But that is simply unacceptable — as educators, we have an obligation to try to make things better. I love college sports. However, institutions of higher learning are in danger of being torn apart by the win-at-all-costs culture we have created for ourselves."
Added Gee: "I am confident that Vanderbilt will compete at the highest levels. We will make Vanderbilt athletics fun and something that every student, faculty member, alumnus and sidewalk fan can be proud of, and participate in. And we will thrive with an athletic program that puts the goals of the University first."