Thursday, January 18, 2007

Prince Deposed: J.P. Headed to Tennessee

Highly touted guard J.P. Prince left Arizona at the end of the fall semester with the intention of transferring to a school closer to his Memphis home. Vanderbilt, one of schools Prince was deciding between before ultimately picking Arizona, was considered a favorite to land the 6'6 guard. The was done...or at least, Vanderbilt fans thought it was. Turns out Vanderbilt University does not accept mid-year transfer students, athlete or exceptions. The result, is the J.P. Prince is now enrolled at the University of Tennessee.

This story was reported this morning by Brett Hiat in today's Nashville City Paper. The article can be found by clicking this link:, and raises a number of questions about the interplay between athletics and academics at Vanderbilt.

To be honest, I don't know what I think. On the one hand, I want Vanderbilt to have the best athletic program it can; on the other, I don't want the school to compromise it's identity to do so. Whether or not accepting mid-year transfers constitutes compromising our identity is not clear to me. What is clear, is that in this particular case, Vanderbilt drew a line in the sand that was unacceptable to J.P. Prince. I can't say I blame him. By waiting until the summer to enroll, he would have missed this semester's practices, potentially putting his future basketball career and any aspirations to bigger and better things he had in jeopardy. Expecting a young man and his family to make a sacrifice does seem unreasonable.

Irregardless of Prince, the question Vanderbilt administrators, coaches, players, recruits, and fans have to ask themselves now is this: was Vanderbilt's decision regarding Prince principled or pig-headed?


Stanimal said...

The professors remain the same. The crop of students who apply remain the same. The administration who has boosted our schools image remains the same. And the athletes have to meet the same qualifications.

This in my mind is fairly pig-headed because it doesn't really affect academics. The most important question is whether or not the kid can make the grade, and that I believe should be up to the admissions committee. Also, there is a greater question to be asked. Does accepting mid-year transfers (athlete or not) lower our academic standing? That question would best be answered by observing other schools with notable academic reputations. In reviewing Duke's admissions web-site, they don't directly state that they take mid-year transfers. I'd imagine this is the same case with most admissions offices, so we'd probably have to ask each office directly.

I'm not running the University and I've got faith in the fact that Chancellor Gee knows how to make our degrees valuable to employers and keep us high in the rankings. But from what little knowledge I possess in maintaining academic prestige, I can say that I don't see how this would be devastating. You set a precedent where we can now accept mid-year transfers, but if the kid can make the grade, then who does it hurt?

From an outside perspective, it appears to me that Vandy gave up a potentially explosive positive in order to prevent a rather minute negative. But I'm not running the athletic department, our athletic director, er.. Vice Chancellor Williams is.

Stanimal said...

As an addendum to my comment: Notre Dame, Northwestern, Wake Forest, and Harvard all accept mid-year transfers.

Seamus O'Toole said...

This is the first year (2006-2007) that Vandy has implemented this policy of not accepting mid-year transfers. It appears to have nothing to do with academic prestige or anything like that. The Admissions Office reports that this was in the works for a long time because the school was concerned about mid-year transfers missing out on the experience of starting fresh at college--by which they mean things like orientation and such. The policy was set to go into effect last year, but they put a moratorium on it in light of the influx of transfers from the Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina.

I am not prepared to make any sweeping criticisms of this policy, but for the record I am against it.

What I find interesting is that an admissions official told me that she could foresee exceptions to this rule, but that they would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. This indicates to me that the J.P. Prince case was probably taken into very close consideration, but that they ultimately decided not to take him for one reason or another. Maybe they're trying to set a precedent, maybe they wanted to make headlines for being such a principled/academically focused/disciplined school, or maybe they did a cost/benefit analysis and thought the publicity for not taking him this semester would be more beneficial than the benefit of having another good player in the backcourt since we are guard-heavy.

My money ain't on the latter...

Stanimal said...

The University should take into account the performance of freshman orientation programs at Vandy. I have a hypothesis based on discussion that freshmen attend less than 65% of said orientation activities.

In other words, I don't think J.P. would be missing much.

But then again, maybe it's because their moving the freshman to depression haven a.k.a. Peabody and they don't want incoming freshmen ruining the so-called "fun" of college for everyone.

Seamus O'Toole said...

I should have clarified--was only using orientation as an example, but the broad point is that there's an issue of acclimating to the social and academic life of the university that, for one reason or another, admissions officers don't think past mid-year transfers had received. I'm sure there are other reasons and will continue looking into it.

Again, I reiterate my disagreement with the decision not to bend the rules in this case.

Stanimal said...

Certainly no argument with your point. We obviously agree in all aspects regarding the discussion. That does clarify the University's argument, and I suppose that it is valid.

Woody said...

One question: How much do you think this policy is related to Vanderbilt's moving toward a Residential College? I realize Notre Dame is also a Residential College, or at least very close, but do you think that Vanderbilt is implementing this during the "transitional" period from the school it is today to a residential institution? Thoughts, if any?

On a second note, I'd be curious how many athletes transfer mid-year in assessing talent that Vanderbilt may or may not miss out on? Personally, I think Vandy's stance was pig-headed. Shouldn't any student be allowed to attend any instituition if they are qualified as Stanimal said?

Seamus O'Toole said...

Still no word from Athletics on whether or not this means a student graduating high school early would be able to participate in spring practices before his/her freshman season.

Woody's comment brings up an interesting point. Chancellor Gee and Co. have a difficult balancing act to perform here. On the one hand, you're trying to move the school toward a more Ivy-league style (or even elite liberal arts college-style) experience for undergrads.

On the flip side, you're a research university and a charter member of the SEC. There's not much of a push to step up the athletic programs because (1) it would be very hard to make a case for nudging out a charter member, especially one as well-located (how many other SEC schools are in major cities of the southeast?) as Vandy is, and (2) no one in their right mind would want to eliminate what is clearly the best academic school in the conference. So while there may be incentives to improve our athletic programs (alumni involvement, increase in applications, etc.), the administration probably doesn't feel much pressure to step it up because it doesn't necessarily fit with their vision of where the school is going.

I guess my point is that until the school's power brokers feel the heat to step the basketball and football programs up to the next level, they won't go out of their way to take any unorthodox measures in trying. I think this is where alumni, boosters, and the student body themselves need to take on some responsibility in supplying the administration with an impetus to improve academics and sports in tandem instead of allowing them to continue operating under the assumption that it's a zero-sum game where progress in one comes at the expense of the other.

I think they probably just assume people don't care that much, and based on game attendance (with the exception of basketball) and athletic donations, they're probably not entirely wrong.

Bobby O'Shea said...

I think Shamas has hit the nail on the head in several areas.

Firstly, Kirkland Hall clearly feels very little pressure to improve athletics, particularly the men's basketball and football programs. Vanderbilt's status in the SEC is not in jeopardy. With that said, I think that this is a critical juncture for the university as it seeks to grow and develop. I am personally in favor of the Residential College system and the freshman "Commons" that the University is moving forward with. I do not believe that this move is antithetical to what Vanderbilt "was," but rather harnesses the unique opportunities available to students at a top-rate university like Vanderbilt. A Residential College system and a vibrant athletic department, to me, would seem to benefit one another. For all the good press Vanderbilt is able to generate about being a top-tier academic institution, such exposure will never compare to the attention the University will be able to garner by being competitive in one of the best athletic conferences in the country. It just won’t. Perhaps this example is overblown, but you cannot tell me that Duke’s academic prestige is not, at least in part, helped by the fact that their men’s basketball team is consistently one of the best teams in the country. Think back to all the Duke games you have ever suffered through. How much attention, either as an aside or a feature, is dedicated to the academic rigors of the school? A lot, right. Kirkland’s desire to expand Vanderbilt’s “reach” across the country would be greatly enhanced if Vanderbilt athletics was able to compete at a high level, despite being an institution that “values” academics.

Shamas’ second point about the alumni, boosters, students is also dead on. I would like to think that his forum is an elixir to apathy that pervades Vanderbilt fans shrugging off losses and disappointing season after disappointing season as “Vanderbilt being Vanderbilt.” If, as a community, Vanderbilt accepts their football and men’s basketball teams to continue to cellar dwell in the SEC then what you get is what you got. I am encouraged by the direction of the football team, and can’t quite figure out the basketball team yet. What I do know is that so long as Kirkland appears hostile to athletics—whether they are or not—Vanderbilt sports will not be taken seriously. And that is a real shame since I see a direct correlation between Vanderbilt’s rise in prestige on a national level and the ability of our “major” sports teams to compete. The Prince incident and the University’s policy regarding mid-year transfers in general indicates to me that Kirkland does not see it that way.

Anonymous said...

price and alvarez are now both officially BA pre-season all americans

Stanimal said...

The dialogue that you both presented is by far the most compelling thing ever posted on this blog. I think both of you are right on the money. And to piggyback off your point Bobby, I think it goes even farther than just the high-prestige academic schools that we consistently refer to.

Having a great athletic program provides in a way a mouthpiece to demonstrate the academic benefits of the University. While I think it's very important for us to maintain our image as an academics-first institution, it's important to point out that most of the nation knows nothing and cares nothing about Vanderbilt except what they see on Saturday afternoons (or whenever there's a basketball game). Having a strong athletic program provides you with name recognition. Articles referring to us as "the new Ivy" are wonderful, but we can be more than just that because we are a member of the best athletic conference in the nation. If we can become more consistently competitive, the University will become a much bigger draw for students, athletes or not. The reason for this is because we as a culture love sports. Having a reputation as a successful athletic school only strengthens our academic reputation because that message and image is related to every person who turns on the TV to watch a game. The University needs to understand that. Another point to make is that they can't afford to let too many of these kinds of opportunities slip away. The reason being is that there isn't a large pool of talented athletes who can make it in our academic environment. Thus it becomes even more important to pitch ourselves to those athletes and get as many of them as possible. It just makes every opportunity like this one more vital.