The names are out. James Franklin has spoken.
But when do the distractions dissipate? And does the buzz off the field affect on-the-field performance?
Franklin and Vanderbilt will find out in the coming months with the 2013 season opener against Ole Miss on Aug. 29 less than six weeks away.
On Monday, the school released the identities of the four football players dismissed from the team on June 28 amid a sex crimes investigation at a Vanderbilt dorm room — redshirt freshmen Brandon Banks, Corey Batey and Tip McKenzie, and junior college transfer Brandon Vandenburg. None of them has played a game at Vanderbilt.
As of press time, no arrests had been made. The Metro Nashville Police Department Sex Crimes Unit continues to investigate the case with help from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office.
Franklin released a statement on Monday, and on Thursday at Southeastern Conference Media Days he spoke to the media for the first time since the incident. But if arrests are made, questions will continue to arise, and Franklin and the Commodores could be peppered with questions about the case into the season.
Coming off its first nine-win season in 97 years, Vanderbilt was riding momentum into Franklin’s third season. Of the four, only Vandenburg, a 6-foot-5 tight end, was expected to vie for a starting job this year. Banks (cornerback), Batey (safety) and McKenzie (wide receiver) figured to add depth as reserves.
ESPN college football analyst Ed Cunningham does not believe an “isolated incident” will derail the Commodores’ success on the field.
“I have a hard time believing this will have much of an impact,” said Cunningham, a former offensive lineman at the University of Washington. “If anything, I think almost the opposite. In a season that it looks like it could be special again, I think this is the type of thing that could actually galvanize a team. … I just don’t get the sense this is the culture of the team. It just doesn’t feel that way to me. It feels like because it is Vanderbilt, they are held to a higher standard.”
History provides mixed results of the carryover effect of off-the-field scandals.
Colorado has not recovered from the Gary Barnett era. Barnett was forced out in 2005 after a rocky tenure that included allegations that Colorado used sex, alcohol and drugs to entice recruits. In 2004, he was suspended for derogatory comments about former kicker Katie Hnida, who said she had been raped by a teammate. Since Barnett left, Colorado has had three coaches and been to just one bowl game (in 2007).
Penn State enters its second year of a four-year NCAA postseason ban and reduced scholarships in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. No players, however, were involved, and the Nittany Lions went 8-4 last year under first-year coach Bill O’Brien.
Miami is currently under investigation by the NCAA after booster Nevin Shapiro provided impressible benefits to players. Last year, the Hurricanes self-imposed their second straight bowl ban.
In the SEC, run-ins with the law appear commonplace. Alabama dismissed four football players who were arrested in February for on-campus robberies. LSU running back Jeremy Hill pleaded guilty to a battery charge on Friday. Texas A&M quarterback and last year’s Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel also pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor charge for a June 2012 arrest after a bar fight.
“No matter where kids go to school there is going to be a certain percentage of them that just aren’t going to fit in or are going to mess up,” Cunningham said. “I think that is true of Vanderbilt. I think that is true of where I went to school, University of Washington. I think it is true of Stanford, Alabama. I think it is true of everywhere. All you can do as a coach is your due diligence, go through your task list and ask tough questions. But these are young men. They are given a place in society where they are not always going to follow the rules. I would hate to jump to some type of systemic thing going on at Vanderbilt with, again, what looks like it might be a bad incident. But we don’t know yet either.”
In two weeks college football practices begin. Aug. 1 can’t come soon enough for Middle Tennessee State coach Rick Stockstill, who calls the summer a “scary time.”
Due to NCAA rules, Stockstill’s time around players in the summer is limited. Less structure in June and July gives way to idle hands.
“They are not always going to do right no matter how much you talk to them, no matter how much you give them examples of other people getting in trouble,” he said. “You only hope they hear your message and they are going to do the right thing when they are presented in a situation.”
In 2010, former MTSU quarterback Dwight Dasher was suspended for four games after receiving a $1,500 loan for a poker game. The Blue Raiders, coming off a historic 10-win season, faltered early without their star quarterback and never recovered during a disappointing 6-7 campaign.
Stockstill coached Brandon Banks' older brother, Andrew, from 2007-11. He declined to talk specifically about Brandon but called the Banks family "phenomenal people."
“[Off-the-field issues are] a distraction, but I prepare as a coach, we all prepare, like there is going to be a crisis every day,” Stockstill said. “If you don’t get it, consider it a good day. You’ve got 110 guys. You always worry somebody is going to mess up. You just try to deal with it honestly, deal with it upfront. You don’t let it drag on. Talk to your team about it and do your best as a coaching staff and as a team to not let it be a distraction.”