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Commentary by Joe Biddle: Vanderbilts worst nightmare

The deeper one digs in the four ex-Vanderbilt football players alleged rape of a 21-year-old co-ed, the more heinous it becomes.

The now ex-Vanderbilt football players were Vanderbilt football players and students when they took a life-changing course. The decisions they allegedly made will follow them the rest of their days.

The real victim is the 21-year-old Vanderbilt co-ed who allegedly was unconscious when the four alleged rapists turned her into an unknowing victim.

If it goes to trial, it will arguably be the most covered crime in Vanderbilt’s history. We’re talking five charges each of aggravated rape and two charges each of aggravated sexual battery.

The four alleged rapists are 20-year-old transfer Brandon Vandenburg, who was held on $350,000 bail earlier this week. Others were 19 years old redshirt freshmen on the football team. Ensworth graduate Cory Batey’s bail was set at $275,000, while Brandon Banks’ bail was $250,000. JaBorian “Tip’’ McKenzie’s bail was $50,000. By Monday night only Vandenburg had not made bail. An arraignment is set for August 21.

Former U.S. Attorney for Middle Tennessee Ed Yarbrough is not representing any of the accused. He has tried hundreds of cases in his illustrious 40-year career, including some of the highest profile cases in the state.

Yarbrough said that in a situation like this, the four alleged rapists would normally be tried together. That is, unless one or more of them roll over and point fingers at others.

“I have to plead ignorant on the facts of the case, but from looking at the bonds amounts, those are pretty big disparities there,’’ Yarbrough said earlier this week.

“I think you could anticipate that there would be some cooperating testimony and probably one or more would make a deal to testify against the more culpable defendants.’’

While they once were teammates, this event could lead to every man fighting to save his skin. It could get ugly on a witness stand.

The victim will likely be compelled to testify, although if she was in an unconscious state as has been reported, I’m not sure just how much she could testify to.
It will play out in the coming months. Even if the four defendants have clean records going in, it doesn’t appear all four will escape incarceration.

Yarbrough admits the case is compelling and complicated.

“It’s one of the more difficult case to defend, and if one or two defendants decide to testify against their buddies, it will be extremely difficult,’’ he predicted.

This type incident is unheard of at Vanderbilt, the only private university in the 14-team SEC. This case will leave a stain no matter how much Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and school administrators spin it in public.

It’s a classic case of the higher you climb the flagpole, the harder the wind blows.

Has Vanderbilt relaxed academic standards to get more football players in school? They don’t have to release that information, but Franklin must be using magic dust to land as many highly ranked recruits.

There have been some solid football coaches before Franklin. None of them ever came close to signing as many highly rated high school recruits as Franklin has.

While Vanderbilt has seen rival schools hit with multiple cases of players committing crimes, it has remained above the fray. The school needs to assess what its mission is. Winning football games and bragging rights is fun, but a price has to be paid.

Sport Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee and a 2013 inductee to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at

Posted on: 8/14/2013


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