George Vecsey's Op/Ed On Lane Kiffin and The Vols: One Fan Strikes Back

Greg CollinsContributor IDecember 16, 2009

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 24:  Head coach Lane Kiffin of the Tennessee Volunteers against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 24, 2009 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After reading Vecsey's sham of an op-ed on the alleged state of affairs in Knoxville, like many folks, I was mad. Mad. As. Hell.

Incensed enough to write and send the following letter to George Vecsey, Tom Jolly, the New York Times Sports Editor and Clark Hoyt, the New York Times' ombudsman/public editor. Bottom line is, at this point, innocent or guilty, it's all speculation.

If, in fact, there were improprieties, however large or small, they'll be dealt with appropriately, via the NCAA, the SEC and UT.

But until then, I'm pretty sick of my team and the school that represents my home state being thrown under the bus in the court of public opinion long before anything beyond a photograph an SI writer fluked upon is submitted as official, credible evidence.

In the words of Howard Beale in the classic movie "Network," I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it any more. I'm taking my argument to the streets. Here's my rant. Enjoy...

Dear Mr. Vecsey-

I've been an avid reader of the New York Times since my college years. No matter where I've lived in the world, it's always been my first read.

During that time, I've read many of your stories and columns. Some I've agreed with, others, I've rolled my eyes at.

But your op/ed, er, I mean slash piece on the University of Tennessee football team really struck a raw nerve.

I'm pretty sure I speak for a lot of Tennesseans (current and former-when I wonder when the New York Times is going to ease up on its innuendo-based assault against the Vols, The Gray Lady's words (yours and Thamel's) traipsing on libel (and stomping on inappropriateness) the way a football player's cleats try to avoid the very edge of the sidelines.

You'd think that with all the harsh economic realities facing the Times that it doesn't make prudent financial sense to employ a proofreader and a legal analyst to read over every column!

It's well-established that your colleague, Pete Thamel, is very much pro-University of Florida, pro-Urban Meyer.

And one need only look at Thamel's bio to see that he was at Syracuse writing for the student paper when the Vols came back to win at the Carrier Dome in '98 on the strength of a late flag pass interference call.

It was the first step toward an undefeated season for Tennessee en route to the first BCS title. Poor Petey.

Seriously, are sour grapes being catered around the NYT sports desk these days? And who knew grapes had a shelf life of 11 years and three-plus months without first being crushed and bottled into wine?!?

Cheap shot, perhaps? Okay, I digress. But since you digressed in your op/ed to write a thinly-disguised rip on the region itself, I figure I'm allowed such a mulligan. On the topic of asides, let's talk about the rock slide you mentioned. Please take a look at this link:

The Newport Plain Talk - News Story

Inside the link, you'll see an aerial photo of the rock slide. Look at the scale of the disaster; it's no laughing matter. Some are estimating that it will take until as late as April '10 or even beyond to get that part of I-40 moving again.

As you can imagine, between tourism, commuting and commerce, it's a heavily-traveled corridor. The people in that immediate area are suffering, mightily.

Business at the various hotels, shops, restaurants and gas stations is a sliver of what it used to be, as drivers (and their dollars) are being detoured away from the area.

The region itself has long waged a battle against poverty and high unemployment. An act of nature is the last thing these people need in their lives, much less having their troubles being mocked by a columnist who seemingly clicked on a few links and typed up the first joke that popped in your head.

Maybe it's time for you to dust off those maps you mentioned, and retrace the steps you took years ago to get a more informed look at the state of affairs.

You also posit that the NCAA could "mandate an autumn without the sound of “Rocky Top” echoing off the hills." I encourage you to look back on the somewhat recent recruiting hostess incidents at the Universities of Colorado and Oregon.

This isn’t even close to that, although the vigorous hyperbole that you and Mr. Hamel have subjected the public to has turned a molehill into something rivaling the size of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The University of Tennessee, whether you choose to believe it or not, doesn’t just exist as a life-support system for sports. It’s an academic haven as well.

Admittedly, we don’t have esteemed alumni such as ones from your alma mater at Hofstra, like Bernie Madoff.

But, UT’s alumni roster does boast two Nobel laureates, seven Rhodes Scholars, six Pulitzer Prize winners, 10 astronauts and that Peyton Manning guy.

Yes, football is life in Tennessee, but it's also a PR tool used to reach out to enhance UT's academic reputation by attracting bright leaders of tomorrow.

Furthermore, your mock indignation does a tremendous job of breaking down the proverbial fourth wall to wink at the world when you opine that "I'm not suggesting anything untoward happened on the little trip from Knoxville, Tenn., to Duncan, S.C. I'm sure the two young women were there just to wish the lads well and say, "If you're ever in the neighborhood, y'all come see us, y'heah?"

It doesn't take too learned of a man to get your insinuation that an athletic program is condoning whoring for the school.

One need only look at the Hofstra Pride's (now there's an appropriate name for a mascot) football schedule...oh wait-that's right; Hofstra disbanded their football team due to lack of interest! Even with free admission, your alma mater couldn't even give away tickets to Pride games!

I mean, holy ghost of undead Wayne Chrebet, Hofstra wasn't even good enough to be a homecoming doormat for the directional school/sisters of the poor teams whose notoriety comes from guessed it-homecoming doormats for D1 teams.

The toughest team I found on your schedule was Marshall back in '03 - a 45-21 loss to the Thundering Herd.

Okay, since that argument blew up in my face, let's instead take a look at Hofstra's recent pre-Christmas basketball scheduling to pick up on a different definition of prostituting for the greater good:

11/13/09: at Kansas

11/17/09: at UConn (NIT Season Tip-Off)

12/20/09: v. St. John's (Aeropostale Holiday Festival)

11/14/08: v. Clemson (Charleston Classic)

12/29/06: at Syracuse

11/22/05: v. Notre Dame

11/20/03: v. Georgia Tech (Preseason NIT)

11/29/03: v. Maryland

11/22/02: at Gonzaga

12/04/01: at Syracuse

11/29/99: at Cal/Berkeley

12/07/99: at Vanderbilt

Indeed, one doesn't have to insinuate that the Hofstra basketball team historically has had no problem whatsoever looking up and staring at the ceiling fan while taking one for the art department.

It's fact and part of recorded history, and certainly par for the course amongst non-Division One schools.

Even the New York Times did a story on smaller schools playing bigger ones for money. Quoting from the NYT: In College Football, Big Paydays for Humiliation - New York Times

“For the weaker teams, a bigger appearance check means a chance to upgrade. Buffalo Coach Turner Gill said the Bulls were able to buy new furniture for their football complex and improve their weight room with the $1.5 million from their three nonconference road games Buffalo plays in the Mid-American Conference…Louisiana-Monroe, which received $700,000 for a game at Kansas, has already spent the money on video equipment.

Florida Atlantic, in the Sun Belt Conference with Louisiana-Monroe, will make more than $1.8 million by opening the schedule with games at Clemson, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and South Carolina.”

Granted, none of these schools were kind enough to give you a warm, wet towel to clean up with afterwards, but, whether it was from a tournament appearance or from a visit to the opponent's home court, Hofstra was given a check. A check that said "thanks for suiting up and bending over. Spend it wisely!"

I'd also say that check for being a harlot-flavored cupcake went towards upgrading facilities that benefited Hofstra students, be it in the athletic department or the library.

Perhaps you or your children or someone else's children directly benefited from Hofstra being all too willing to taking one for the team.

Perhaps you wouldn't be able to make such wide-eyed parenthetical accusations thinly disguised as an op-ed column from such a lofty perch if it weren't for your own alma mater's willingness to drop trou for textbooks.

Go Big Orange-now and forever.

Greg Collins
Los Angeles, CA

P.S.: On a technical web note, not enabling comments to the piece online was a serious mistake, in my opinion, because the clicks your column has received today from angry Vols such as myself-as well as the rhetoric an open, public discussion would've generated-and is generating on message boards-surely would've made a noticeable blip, enabling you to charge more to run their banners and such on

As you well know, in the new media economy, every nickel counts. Or is the New York Times willing to sacrifice a possible and positive augmentation to the bottom line so that Mr. Vecsey can safely publish a hit-and-run piece and then run off to the comfort of his hidey-hole?


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