Yeah, yeah, let the jokes begin. (I called him back and retorted with the one about the UT fan who was trying to teach another UT fan how to bowl. "Roll the ball down and try to knock down as many pins as you can," he said. "But whatever you do, don't knock them all down, or they cheat you out of your second ball.")
Even most Commodore loyalists would have presumed that softball, volleyball or perhaps even equestrian would have been more in keeping with the upper-crust image of Vanderbilt than bowling. For softball or volleyball, Vandy would have been in good company in the SEC, and fan support would have been ready-made.
But women's bowling? Sounds a bit too blue-collar and undignified for the Belle Meade crowd's tastes.
Yet when Vice Chancellor David Williams and the athletics board looked at all the factors, including number of scholarships and facility requirements, women's bowling made the most sense. The move, as I understand it, will allow Vanderbilt to maintain its NCAA certification, as well as offer a few more scholarships for a men's sport like soccer (which has lagged for years due to a lack of schollies).
Women's bowling, as it turns out, is a relatively new championship sport for the NCAA. Did you know... the first national tournament was hosted just this past April by the Emerald Bowl in Houston. Eight at-large teams were invited from among the nation's best to participate.
Did you know that ESPN2 televised the finals live this year? I didn't.
Had Vandy gone with an established sport like softball, volleyball or swimming, it would likely have taken years for a Commodore team to be competitive against SEC schools which have had these sports for years. In the fledgling sport of bowling, Vanderbilt will have a chance to come up to speed quickly.
The 2004 National Championship in Women's Bowling was won by the University of Nebraska. (Something tells me that when the University of Nebraska announced that it was adding women's bowling as a varsity sport, nobody sneered.)
Were the Cornhuskers be too embarrassed to accept that NCAA Championship trophy? I doubt it.
Most of the current schools sponsoring women's bowling are schools that we would call "mid-majors" in basketball. Besides the "Lady Cornhuskers", other teams that qualified for the eight-team championship field in April were Winston-Salem State, Fairleigh Dickinson, Sacred Heart, Central Missouri State, New Jersey City, Maryland-Eastern Shore, and Southern University.
For two conferences, the MEAC and the SWAC, women's bowling is already a league sport. The MEAC, based along the Eastern Seaboard, includes schools like Coppin State, South Carolina State and North Carolina A&T, while the traditionally African-American SWAC includes schools like Alcorn State, Grambling State, Jackson State and Southern. Vanderbilt will likely have to look to these nearby conferences for opponents.
Without question, bowling is not going to draw the fan interest, nor the media attention, that softball or volleyball would have... but the startup costs are not likely to severely gash the school's athletics budget, as either of those other sports would have done.
Soon, presumably, the call will go out for a women's bowling coach. Scholarships should soon open up for qualified female high school bowlers who might also happen to be looking for a free education at an elite Southern university. If I had any daughters (which I don't), I would probably begin immediately teaching them the rudiments.
In the meantime, how is Vanderbilt going to find enough qualified young women to field a varsity team?
School officials will probably have to do what my UT friends do when they want to pick up women... i.e., head for local bowling alleys.
Contact Brent at brent(at)vandymania.com