Whitley's Believe It or Not: Vanderbilt finally joins the SEC party!

After dawdling for almost 90 years, the Commodores will try to become as good in football as Florida is in almost every SEC sport.

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun
  • Vandy has a $300 million project to improve its athletic facilities.
  • Florida has won 250 SEC titles, by far the most of any school.
  • The NCAA should pay athletes at the Final Four at least as much as it paid Miley Cyrus.

Before we ask you to look around the house for a missing finger, let's all put our hands together for the best athletic program in the SEC  — and the worst.

The best is Florida, which won its 250th conference title over the weekend. More on that in a minute.

The worst is Vanderbilt, which has won approximately 231 fewer SEC titles. But last week the school announced a $300 million project to improve its football and basketball facilities and raise money for its athletics programs.

Considering Vanderbilt was a charter member when the SEC formed in 1933, it's about time.

Vandy has long flaunted its academic standards as justification for stinking in the SEC's marquee sport. But Stanford and Northwestern have proven highfalutin universities can succeed in football without selling their scholarly souls.

They just have to want to be as good in sports as they are in the classroom. Vandy's new chancellor, Daniel Diermeier, is smart enough to understand that.

"When you look at Vanderbilt, it has been committed to excellence since its founding," he said. "That means we must be committed to excellence in everything we do."

The SEC probably also was getting tired of Vanderbilt cashing about $45 million in conference TV checks and putting about $8.49 toward athletics.

Don't expect Vandy to actually win an SEC football title in the next 3,000 years. But at least the Commodores realize they have to up their game.

Welcome to the SEC, Vandy. Now please don't ever hire Jeremy Pruitt. ...

Something's fishy at Auburn

You undoubtedly recall last week's Whitley's Believe It or Not where we reported Auburn's bass fishing team had been dry-docked until Jan. 1, 2022 for "multiple violations" of the school's COVID-19 policy. Apparently team members were not affixing miniature masks on the bass after catching them.

The school has reduced the suspension and the team will be allowed back on the water April 22. Reports that Alabama had signed a five-star fishing recruit before the SEC meet apparently prompted the move. ...

Speaking of conference championships, a milestone was reached Sunday afternoon when Florida's tennis team beat Kentucky to win the regular-season league title.

It was the 250th SEC championship for UF dating back to 1937, when the men's swimming and diving team won the first conference trophy.

Tennessee is a distant second with 156 championships. Missouri is last with two titles. Unlike Vandy, it has the excuse of only being in the league since 2012. ...

In case you've lost count, Deshaun Watson is now facing 22 civil lawsuits from massage therapists accusing him of sexual misconduct. If his football career is jeopardized, he can always become a politician. ...

Stud of the Week: Khetag Pliev. The Russian MMA fighter had his left ring finger torn off during a bout — and kept fighting.

Pliev dislocated the digit in the first round and it was apparently yanked off a round later. The ref noticed and stopped the bout, but nobody could find the finger.

Organizers even made an announcement over the PA system asking people to look for the finger, just in case it had fallen into someone's chili-cheese nachos.

Pliev's finger was eventually found lodged in his opponent's glove. Surgeons reattached it, though it's too early to tell how much function the finger will regain.

"I wanted to keep fighting," Pliev said.

Dud of the Week: The NCAA, for subjecting us to the Miley Cyrus "halftime show" between the Saturday's Final Four semifinal games. No word on what her fee was, but if the NCAA will pay singers to perform, it should pay players to perform. ...

Upcoming Stud of the Week — UF basketball coach Mike White, who will end up bringing in more talent through the transfer portal than the Gators lost. ...

"Godzilla vs. Kong" set a pandemic-era record of $32 million in box office sales over the weekend. I won't tell you which monster won, but I'd take Khetag Pliev over either one in the next sequel. ...

Aaron Rodgers is guest-hosting "Jeopardy!" the next two weeks. No knock against Rodgers, but it'll be harder to replace Alex Trebek than it was Brett Favre. ...

In honor of Rodgers' stint on "Jeopardy!", here's a question from the SEC Football category. The clues are "Sewanee and Florida."

Can you hit the buzzer and answer it?

This Just In — Auburn has announced a $300 million project to improve its bass fishing facilities. ...

FSU hired Randy Shannon as a "defensive analyst" on Monday. Shannon was previously head coach at Miami, interim head coach at Florida and an assistant at UCF. Shannon's only 55, so there's still time for him to be named "bait analyst" for USF's bass fishing team. ...

 "Jeopardy!" Answer —"Besides Vanderbilt, what two charter members of the SEC that did not win a football title for the first 58 years of league existence?"...

Sewanee's excuse was it dropped out in 1940 after going 0-37. I'm not sure what the Gators' excuse was, but at least they never lost 37 straight games. ...

And as they say in Auburn, it's time to fish or cut bait. We're out of space, so I'll cut bait a quick reminder. If you find an unidentified finger around your house, please return it to the nearest Russian MMA fighter.

Whitley

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley