In the week that has followed the announcement of this year’s college football bowl lineup, lots of teeth have been gnashed, much hair has been pulled and disappointment has been expressed in regard to Vanderbilt’s inclusion in the Music City Bowl.
The prevailing perception is that the Commodores and their fans are somehow cheated or that their bowl experience is somewhat diminished by the fact that they will play in their hometown — and for the second time in five years, no less.
Nothing could be farther from reality.
What’s funny about the whole thing is that any other time, in any other situation Vanderbilt and its fans revel in the ways the university and its student-athletes are different from the larger state schools that comprise the rest of the SEC and make up the vast majority of bowl teams. However, the notion that the Music City Bowl is some sort of disappointment presumes that the Commodores are just like everyone else.
Unlike a lot of other schools, the bulk of Vanderbilt graduates do not stay in this area. They spread out across the country and even the world. So it’s not as if they all attend games at Vanderbilt Stadium regularly throughout the fall.
We all know what a great city this is in general, not to mention what it has to offer from a hospitality standpoint. The opportunity to come back and spend New Year’s Eve in Nashville has to be appealing for many. Add to that the fact that a bowl appearance was not a surprise this year and chances are more alumni than ever have saved the time to make a trip to Nashville from whatever their current location.
In short, the Music City Bowl offers Vanderbilt the opportunity for a sort of ad hoc homecoming — one that actually is better than the real thing.
Seriously, what provides more motivation for a Vanderbilt grad living in New York or Chicago or Seattle to come to town — an October game against UMass or a Dec. 31 bowl game against North Carolina State? It’s no contest, which is why Vanderbilt will be well-represented at this year’s game (as it was in 2008) and why area hotels won’t look like ghost towns in the days surrounding the contest.
In addition to all of that, the idea that a virtual home game somehow is unique simply is not true. Just look at this season’s bowl lineup and how much “travel” other schools and their fans have to do.
San Diego State faces Brigham Young in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego. There’s a whopping five miles between San Diego State’s campus and Qualcomm Stadium, where the game will be played.
Texas gets to go all the way to San Antonio to play Oregon State in the Valero Alamo Bowl. That’s a journey of 80 miles straight down an interstate, and the way Texans drive, they can cover that distance in no time.
Central Florida gets Ball State in the Beef O’Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl, which is slightly more than 100 miles from campus.
Louisiana-Lafayette meets East Carolina in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, a two-hour drive from campus.
Western Kentucky’s first bowl opponent is Central Michigan at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit. That game takes place roughly 150 miles from Central Michigan’s campus. That’s about the same distance Duke travels to Charlotte, where it will face Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.
There are 35 bowl games this year and seven (20 percent) feature a team that won’t have to travel far. Vanderbilt is not alone in that regard, and it certainly is not in a bad spot.