Dear Commodore Nation,
When we hosted the Commodore Classic on Sept. 19, it not only marked the first competition of the season for our cross country teams, it also represented the first time we were able to participate in any sport since March 12. While I am always excited to start a new year, this year seems even more rewarding, considering the circumstances. Getting to this point was the result of tireless effort and commitment by our student-athletes, coaches, administration, staff and many others over the past several months.
Although COVID-19 has proven to be a formidable opponent, our Vanderbilt family has come together in the spirit of collaboration and shared responsibility to make these moments possible for our student-athletes.
As you know, this season will look different from any other in Commodore history. We announced previously that our home events will proceed without fans in attendance through the end of October. This was one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make, but it was what we had to do to confront one of the most challenging times we’ve ever faced as a society. This is a situation that I never could have imagined. Yet, that doesn’t change our responsibility to give our student-athletes the best chance possible to compete and win. In the context of this pandemic, this decision supports fulfilling that responsibility.
The entire Vanderbilt community should be commended for its commitment to returning to campus and delivering on our mission amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It has required a tremendous amount of effort by many, and to date it’s clear that the protocols and structure that have been implemented have been effective. We have made sacrifices across the entire university, including in athletics. Masks are required in nearly every instance, most meetings and many classes are virtual, outside visitors are not permitted on campus, gatherings of more than 10 people are the exception (under very strict guidance), and not the rule. These protocols are designed to do exactly what they are doing—minimizing risk to the university community so that our students can do what they came here to do, with as little disruption as possible—and in as safe an environment as possible.
We often refer to “The Degree, The City, The SEC” when describing the value of the Vanderbilt student-athlete experience. That comes into play here too. The value of “The Degree” speaks for itself, and we want to support our students having the best academic experience possible despite the current challenges. While we benefit from being in “The City” we love, the close proximity of our athletic venues within the heart of campus and the Nashville area presents a challenge during a pandemic. The COVID-19 positivity rate of our university community, currently at 0.31 percent, is trending much lower than that of the broader Nashville community, and we must continue to do our part. And, finally, we are focused on winning in “The SEC”—the best conference in the country. This is a combination worth protecting.
At the end of the day, we are trying to control as much as we can in what sometimes seems like an uncontrollable situation. With each passing day, there are different reminders of the unprecedented nature of our current landscape. It’s humbling to realize that you can do your best and it still may not be enough—but we are Vanderbilt and we MUST do our best. Our student-athletes deserve that. As our fans and supporters, you deserve that as well.
Our ability to execute fully many of the elements of a quality fan experience is hindered right now. That realization—in addition to consultations with Vanderbilt University Medical Center experts and public health officials—helped inform our tough decision regarding fan attendance.
We will miss our loyal fans and are working hard to welcome everyone back whenever we can do so responsibly and safely. Meanwhile, our focus is on improving the in-game fan experience in preparation for the return of spectators, while we are also developing new ways for fans to cheer on our Commodores from afar.
Next week we will provide details on the virtual programming you can access during our home football games, including a virtual tailgate and live pregame show starting with our home opener on Oct. 3 against LSU.
The pandemic has certainly required much of our attention, but we also are focused on the future. Earlier this month we hired two outstanding college athletics leaders to help move us forward. Tommy McClelland, who comes to us from Louisiana Tech, will serve as the deputy athletic director for external affairs and revenue generation. Kristene Kelly, who previously was an athletics administrator at Dartmouth College, will bring her expertise to the role of deputy athletic director for internal affairs.
Since I started in this new role, I have had numerous conversations with student-athletes, fans, coaches, staff, parents, alumni and supporters, and I can assure you—I hear you. We are focused squarely on winning. And, frankly, we don’t have any interest in doing things that don’t contribute to winning. I am wholeheartedly committed to bringing Vanderbilt Athletics into a new era.
With the dedication and support of our incredible fans and the entire Commodore family, we are growing forward. While we have work to do, we are rising to this challenge.
Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletic Director