Dear Commodore Nation,
Just last week, I watched with pride as our Vanderbilt Athletics family celebrated the start of the 2019-20 academic year at the first-ever Commodore Kickback, a relaxed “welcome back” BBQ for all of our student-athletes, coaches and staff.
When our baseball student-athletes walked in to the party, it seemed that it was only yesterday that we came together as a Commodore Nation — whether in Omaha, at the watch parties in Nashville, or in front of our televisions around the world — to cheer on Coach Corbin, who recently was honored by the Tennessee General Assembly, and the VandyBoys as they captured another national championship.
The truth is, while that magical championship run brought well-deserved attention not just to our elite baseball program but to the entire university, there are so many recent accomplishments (shout-out to men’s golfer John Augenstein for his remarkable run at the U.S. Amateur!) for us to celebrate and so much to look forward to this year. Women’s soccer is already off to an undefeated start, cross country season is soon underway and Coach Mason has his men ready to battle Georgia in football’s season opener. There is truly a buzz around campus as fall sports are underway (both figuratively and literally, as the jackhammers ringing with construction underway in McGugin is a constant reminder of action and movement forward).
Any meaningful work begins with a plan, and work is well underway to develop our masters facilities plan. What exactly does that mean? We have been working daily for the past several months with international design firm Perkins and Will on a plan to assess the performance of our existing facilities holistically in order to develop design options and strategies for their future state. As I said at the launch of this process, this is our opportunity to consider our entire footprint for opportunities to reimagine, renovate, or in some cases, to start anew. This initiative takes into consideration all aspects of Vanderbilt Athletics, beyond just the physical buildings and grounds, to include the development of the student-athlete, as well as fostering relationships with our Nashville fan community. Best uses, benchmarking, identification of gaps and recommendations for the future have gone into our study of all potential opportunities to ensure that facility efforts are aligned with the overall university mission. Yes, this process includes football, but also considers opportunities to enhance the vitality of all programs. This effort extends well beyond just a football stadium project.
As work continues to develop initial recommendations, all options will be considered but we’re not waiting to get started. And as the late, great Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher used to say “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” As such, you’ll notice several enhancements to the fan experience at our football season-opener Aug. 31.
No doubt you’ve heard the news that you will be able to purchase a beer at Vanderbilt Stadium this year after the SEC changed its policy to allow alcohol sales at conference venues. In addition to enhancing the fan experience, the sales will help further our mission of helping our student-athletes succeed on and off the field. We have worked closely with university officials to develop an alcohol sales policy that we believe will enhance your experience without compromising the safety and family atmosphere at our games.
In addition, we’re pleased to be working with event management company Tailgate Guys to enhance the pre-game experience at Vandyville and Commodore Lawn. Tailgate Guys can handle all the tailgating logistics so you and your friends can just enjoy your fall Saturdays with a lot less stress — we hope you enjoy the Tailgate Guys experience and #TailgateBetter.
You’ll quickly notice new game day touches like our new and improved video board, sound speakers, concessions offerings, installation of new water fountains and a long overdue update of stadium restrooms, which will be completed over the first few weeks of the season. We kindly ask that you please pardon our dust. You will also notice the impact of the significant investment we made into our video control room, which will be reflected with a more engaging in-game video board presentation which includes fan-immersive content. This investment will provide similar in-game capabilities during home contests at Memorial Gymnasium and Hawkins Field, including live video and replays.
And please be sure to visit the new and improved VUCommodores.com and download our revamped app to stay on top of all the latest developments. While this redesigned website is centrally focused on increasing user engagement and building brand affinity, it also matches Vanderbilt’s desire to be innovative across all external platforms. Our customized site design is now optimized for the mobile experience while maintaining a fully responsive design. Yes, it is overdue, but the updated mobile app now includes dedicated sections and features for all of our varsity programs, and will continue to improve in time as it integrates further with our website.
We’ve launched the Admiral’s Fleet, a program to help our most recent alumni stay connected while supporting their alma mater with 100% of proceeds benefitting Opportunity Vanderbilt. The Class of 2019 is able to purchase season tickets for football and men’s and women’s basketball for just $19, along with a host of other special events and perks. As more and more Vanderbilt graduates opt to stay in this incredible city of Nashville to start their careers, we know it’s important to capture their energy and enthusiasm at our venues. Along the same lines, we have welcomed Dr. Doug Morin as the new director of the Spirit of Gold marching band. We’re excited about the energy he’ll bring to the band and our student body, which are vital parts of the game day environment.
As one of the first of many improvements we’ll make to Memorial Gymnasium in support of Coach Stackhouse and Coach White, we’ve installed a new lighting system that will allow us to be much more creative with our pre-game and in-game visual displays and routines. Prepare to get loud! As we look to the future at Memorial, we’re also elated to celebrate the historic achievements that have taken place there. Over the summer, a historical marker was installed on 25th Avenue South commemorating the many civil rights activities that took place there in the 1960s. And speaking of 25th Avenue and civil rights, Vanderbilt worked with the Nashville Metro Council to rename the portion of the road that passes by Memorial Gym “Perry Wallace Way” in tribute to the late Professor Wallace, the distinguished Vanderbilt alum who made history as the first African American basketball player in the SEC.
We’ve made other improvements that are meaningful to our coaches and student-athletes that are less visible to our fans. Within the walls of the McGugin Center, we completely remodeled and improved both the Olympic Sport weight room and the Hendrix Room, our dining facility for student-athletes. We’re also working with Gatorade to install multiple “fuel bars” in McGugin to provide the latest nutritional and sports performance products to all student-athletes. At Hawkins Field, crews are now installing new artificial turf. And we have listened to our fans who have asked to purchase portions of the previous turf as keepsakes, and that will be available very soon.
I’d like to offer my congratulations to our five-member 2019 Vanderbilt Hall of Fame Class — the late Josh Cody (football), Carla Thomas (women’s basketball), Bobby Reynolds (men’s tennis), Chris Gaines (football) and Laura Koerner Stewart (soccer). We will pay tribute to the inductees tonight and show them how proud we are of their contributions to Vanderbilt and our athletics department. These former student-athletes have made an impression and left their marks on our school, and we are extremely grateful for them all. The inductees represent the anchor that steadies our athletic program and gives bigger and better opportunities to our student-athletes both current and future.
During the football home opener against Georgia, we will be the first SEC program to host a “Set The Expectation” game. Brenda Tracy, a registered nurse from Portland, Oregon, shared with the football team this past summer her devastating personal story and vital message of preventing sexual violence. Tracy has addressed dozens of college teams and many more on the high school level in the past year. Tracy, who calls her campaign “Set The Expectation,” will be in attendance and introduced to the crowd during an on-field recognition.
And another first for Vanderbilt Athletics that you may not know about — Vanderbilt was the first university to have its athletic trainers report to a non-athletics third party (in our case, Vanderbilt University Medical Center) — an important move to maximize student-athlete safety and eliminate potential conflicts of interest. We’re now going several steps further by developing a comprehensive athletic performance team dedicated to maximizing the physical, mental, social and academic health and performance of each student-athlete.
In closing, I would like to offer my very best wishes to Chancellor Emeritus Nicholas S. Zeppos, the man who brought me to Vanderbilt. I’m proud to have worked with Nick and I think we all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for the tremendous leadership he provided Vanderbilt as Chancellor. By the same token, I’ve immensely enjoyed working with Interim Chancellor and Provost Susan R. Wente and appreciate her strong support of Vanderbilt Athletics. Susan recently joined me at a preseason football practice and addressed the team with inspiring remarks. It’s very evident that she not only wholeheartedly understands college athletics, but also the ins-and-outs of our varsity programs and the holistic student-athlete experience.
As you can see, we have many things to celebrate as a Vanderbilt family. What’s truly exciting is that there is so much more we will achieve. I’m inspired each day while reading on Twitter your feedback and ideas, many of which are currently being discussed behind the scenes and will soon come to fruition. For example, we know that we need to improve the wireless connection at Vanderbilt Stadium and find solutions for traffic ingress and egress on game days. We are aware of the issues, and are seeking to “make haste slowly” as we balance significant new additional investment with the prudence of defining a longer-term end game for our principal athletic facilities. But I assure you — everything is on the drawing board, we hear you, and will continue to actively listen as future plans are developed.
Thank you for your continued support of Vanderbilt Athletics. Together we will continue to do great things.