What James Franklin is doing at Vanderbilt would have been deemed impossible as recently as four years ago. In a conference that spits out national champions on an annual basis, Vanderbilt has reached a bowl game in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history and, in 2012, won nine games for the first time since 1915. The Commodores drubbed Tennessee 41-18, and only fell to teams that ended up in New Year's Day bowl games.
In three seasons, Franklin's impact goes well beyond his 15-11 record. No one, certainly those in gold and black, would dispute this.
But, if you look at the way Vanderbilt season tickets are selling, it doesn't feel that way. And Franklin is starting to get fed up.
With a week and a half to go before the season opener versus Ole Miss at Vanderbilt Stadium, the Commodores are still 2,300 season tickets behind last year's pace.
“I really don’t want to hear about the excuses about we’re in a city and we have other things to compete with," Franklin told the Tennessean. "I don’t want to hear about nationally how the trend is that people are struggling to get people to go to games, because that’s not the fact in the SEC, and we’re in the SEC. So I think the excuses are over and it’s time for us to get out and support our team.”
For the last, oh, eight decades or so, the line has been that Vanderbilt can't compete with the rest of the conference because the university won't commit like the rest of the conference. This has been proven false. Franklin's reported $3 million salary is in lockstep with his peers, and the university has provided enough of a committment to the football program to allow Vanderbilt's entire coaching staff to remain intact for two years running.
The university has made the plunge to competing like a big-time program; now Franklin wants that support to be reciprocated by the Vanderbilt fan base. If Franklin is not tolerating excuses inside the walls of the football program, he's certainly not allowing them outside the program.
As the Tennessean's Jeff Lockridge points out, every moment Franklin spends promoting his program in an effort to fill empty seats, something that the likes of Will Muschamp and Mark Richt don't have to do, that's one moment he loses to his SEC East rivals on doing his real job - improving the product on the field.
“We have to get to a point where we stop rationalizing that we don’t have this or we don’t have that and we rationalize it and make excuses why that’s OK. It’s not,” Franklin said. “We’ve got to sell out every single game, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t.
“I don’t want to hear about the Titans. I know the population in this area within three hours of this campus there is plenty of people to sell out this stadium every single game and sell out all our season tickets. No doubt about it.”