Oct. 4, 2012
Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletics Director David Williams discusses a wide variety of topics in this month's Q&A session.
COMMODORE NATION: You make it a point to emphasize the future, not the present, when assessing the status of Vanderbilt athletics. What is your vision?
DAVID WILLIAMS: I look at how we are doing and what we need to be doing; learn from the past, live in the present and focus upon the future. I ask, "What do we need to be doing to be a player in this 14-team Southeastern Conference or the 250-some institutions playing Division I athletics?" We must continue the good things we traditionally do but we must realize this is a changing environment and standing still is falling behind. Here are some priorities:
- We need to be sure that we have the facilities to make our athletic performances better, the fan experience more enjoyable and entice the nation's best high school student-athletes to want to become Commodores. I believe we have to do more to improve facilities to help our student-athletes stay fit and rehabilitate quickly. There is technology to even predict and access potential injuries and help prevent them; we need to be a leader here.
- e have to ask ourselves how long we are content having the 14th best football stadium in a 14-member conference. We know where we stand and it's up to us to do something about it. This doesn't mean we need to add a lot of seats but we do need to make some moves to make the stadium more comfortable and inviting.
- We need to look at the sports we sponsor and consider whether we can and should add more and if so, which sports they should be? Adding sports will not only provide more opportunities, but we are at a handicap with just 16 going toward the Director's Cup standings.
- We are analyzing how we are prepare our student-athletes for their future endeavors. Yes, they are getting a world-class education in the classroom, but I also believe our student-athletes are giving a lot of their time and we should investigate what we can do to better prepare them for their specific career callings. For instance, how can we prepare the student that wants to continue their sport professionally? What about life-skill training? Should we look into taking small groups to specific places beyond our Study Abroad initiatives? We can talk to 325 student-athletes much easier than we can 1,500 freshmen or 6,000 undergraduates.... Of course, all of this costs money!
CN: When you speak internally about our department you tend to refer to the programs themselves rather than the individuals inside those programs. Can you explain the difference?
WILLIAMS: You want to get into the mindset that it is not about individuals but rather it's about the process, the entity. If we all disappeared tomorrow the foundation of what have laid will carry on through our successors. While we have some spectacular individuals, our success is not tied solely to those individuals. The other day I made this point in a meeting by asking who is the CEO of Coca-Cola. Nobody knew, of course. The point being it's about Coca-Cola, not an individual. We don't even know when they change leadership, it keeps on going.
CN: What grade would you give the progress Commodore athletics has made in recent years?
WILLIAMS: My law students might say I'm an easy grader but in athletics I am a much tougher grader. I'd give us a "B" in progress. Our progress has been good by normal standards and if you were to factor our obstacles to some of the progress the grade would clearly be an "A" in my view. Our culture of mediocrity had been an issue, there was a time when the university was not united behind athletics and the expectations were too low. Looking back the challenges were monumental and when I think of the things we've accomplished we've done a good job. But we have a lot more to do.
CN: You've told the staff there is a golden opportunity for Vanderbilt athletics right now, can you elaborate?
WILLIAMS: All the stars are aligned and everybody is on board. We have good coaches and a good support staff. We are an attractive university in a great city. Our central administration supports us fully (did you realize that three members of our central administration played collegiate sports?) and we have good relationships with our faculty and staff. Also, in regards to the budget, the flow of revenue is a bit more predictable and that is a big help. We're at a point where 99% of us want to bust through that ceiling and be great and with the steady progress we've shown and trust we've earned since 2003, the university recognizes that athletics can be a real asset to the overall institution.
CN: What has been the impact of fund-raising to the many construction projects throughout the department (the widest scope of work in the department's history)?
WILLIAMS: It's simple; we wouldn't have been able to do what we've done and wouldn't be able to continue without outside financial assistance. It is critical. We have the golden opportunity to grab the brass ring but fund-raising is the engine that drives our chance. Stanford never has to worry about staying on top because all of its athletic scholarships are endowed. Think about what we could do if all of our athletic scholarships were endowed!
CN: These facilities are being improved without any external debt, right?
CN: What can be said about the status of the Rec Center expansion which will include football's indoor practice facility, the new running track and the many other varsity and recreational facilities?
WILLIAMS: We know the facility will cost about $31 million, half of it internal and half of it funded through outside giving. We've identified about 95% of the external funding at this time and are nearing the point where we can declare victory.
CN: Your son Nick is being recruited to play college soccer and we've heard you turn some of his campus visits into fact-finding trips for our department.
WILLIAMS: For the second time in five or six years I'm the parent of a child being recruited. It is fascinating as I get to see things in a different light. When my daughter Samantha was recruited in swimming, many of her options were at schools quite different than Vanderbilt, in terms of athletics; but with Nick, many of his options are similar. When I'm able to make one of his trips, I see facilities, different ways of doing things and I also see what influences Nick or catches his mother's eye.
ATHLETIC FACILITY IMPROVEMENT
From the September 2012 issue of Commodore Nation....
If summer is supposed to be a quiet time around collegiate athletic departments, no one told the numerous construction crews who have spent the better part of three months making improvements to nearly all of the facilities located around Jess Neely Drive.
Vanderbilt Stadium, Memorial Gymnasium, Hawkins Field and the McGugin Center all have received substantial upgrades during the off-season. And while the public will first enjoy the benefits of an enhanced football gameday experience, Head Coach James Franklin is quick to point out that the entire department is moving forward.
"It's amazing what we've been able to get done here in 18 months. Not just the football program, but the whole athletic department," Franklin said from the new Olympic Sport meeting room on the second floor of the McGugin Center. "A year ago, we would be outside on the roof. Now we have these new meeting rooms, new locker rooms downstairs, turf on the field, lights, and we're breaking ground on a $31 million dollar multipurpose facility soon. It's exciting."
The second-floor expansion of the McGugin Center allowed for extra meeting space upstairs--including an auditorium with stadium seating and room for the 100-plus member football team--and also afforded Olympic sport teams with larger locker room facilities on the first floor. Soccer and cross country were the first to test out their expanded digs, but other coaches already realize their value as well.
"The locker room will be among the best in Division I lacrosse, and the meeting space is just as critical to our success," Head Lacrosse Coach Cathy Swezey said. "Vanderbilt's commitment to athletics is evident in all that is going on. We could not be more excited."
Other updates included a complete overhaul of the Hendrix Room, chef Majid Noori's training table; impressive new video boards hanging over Ingram Court; an advanced turf system at Hawkins Field that will allow Coach Tim Corbin's squad to practice outdoors year-round; and new, larger bridges at Percy Warner Park that make the cross country course better suited to host the SEC meet next month.