Understanding Vandy

CFB Universe, it’s time for us to talk about Vandy. The reactions to the a tweet by @RedditCFB illustrate why people outside the SEC (and some inside) don’t understand what it means to be Vanderbilt University. I will do my best to explain.


To quote their Wikipedia article Vanderbilt is a founding and charter member of the Southeastern Conference and for a half-century has been the conference’s only private school.. They were part of the group that left the Southern Conference in 1933 to form the SEC. And since Tulane left the SEC (and Sewanee before it) it’s the only private school we have left.

The Family Reunion that is the SEC

The SEC is like a family. Not a nuclear family, but like a family reunion: Lots of food, some weird ancient arguments, and all the expected characters. Vandy is the weird family member who is super-smart, but a little socially awkward. The whole family cannot stop itself from picking on Vandy, but feels a little bad about doing it. If anyone outside the family picks on them, the rest of us will fight them. Vandy is OUR team to pick on, but we love them, and they’re family.

It’s not surprising that our tailgating looks like an exaggerated reunion.

War Memorial Tailgating

Brandonrush CC BY-SA 4.0

They also don’t have the same passion for sports that the rest of the league has. They are excited by bowl appearances. They don’t spend the offseason deluding themselves into believing that this is the year they win the CFP. They field their team for one reason and one reason only: spite. They are out to ruin someone’s year and nearly every season, they do.

This is also the fear of the SEC East. We tease Vandy, we laugh at their stadium, lack of fans, and FCS roster. But then the weekend comes up that you play them and you are gripped with fear. Is this the game they show up for and your team looks over? Are they going to embarrass you in front of the rest of the family. Is this going to be the reunion where the whole family remembers that Vandy whipped you at horseshoes, while constantly adjusting their glasses?

Almost every Vandy fan at least follows some other SEC school. They’re the unofficial heart of the SEC, within driving distance of almost the whole conference. Their brother went to Bama or Tennessee. They own a bulldog. Something ties them to another team, and that keeps them alive. Sure there’s a hardcore base, some of which are in the photo above.

But they play a game against East Tennessee. I don’t even know that was a school and I live in the state. They’re going to win despite their (super-smart) 2 and 3 star roster and their fully-supported middling coach. But there’s no thrill. Vandy fans can’t delight in the suffering inflicted by a win. It’s cold, and dreary, and even the band can’t get up to make a proper V. It’s understandable.

Vanderbilt has no analog. Stanford and Northwestern are the “smart private school”, but have been too successful. Iowa State and Kansas are neither “smart and private” or as consistently in the bottom 2 of the conference. The last time Vanderbilt won a conference title was in 1923 and this guy was their coach:

Dan McGugin

The Commodore (Vanderbilt University yearbook), 1922, p. 118

Vanderbilt. We love them. We laugh at them. We fear them. And without them, the SEC would not be the SEC.

Mike Messmore

Memphis, USA
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CFB fan, IT Infrastructure guy, dad