With all due respect to the Vanderbilt women's bowling program -- and acknowledging that their national championship was special in its own right -- this one probably matters a bit more to Vanderbilt as an athletics department. Because, rightly or wrongly, there are fewer eyes on women's bowling than on the College World Series, fewer fans that pay close attention. The perception of Vanderbilt can't be changed by a national title in a sport that so few see.
The perception of Vanderbilt changed just a little bit on Wednesday night. Or maybe more than that. For the first time in a nationally-televised event, it was Vanderbilt claiming the national title. There was no way to turn the Commodores into a punchline.
Not that they didn't cut it close, being Commodores. Things looked dangerously like they were about to come unglued in the bottom of the sixth, when Vanderbilt allowed Virginia to score two runs and tie the game. Every Virginia batter in the seventh and eighth innings, except the leadoff men, came up with runners on base. Only an unlikely home run by John Norwood in the eighth -- Vanderbilt's first homer in more than a month -- gave Vanderbilt the slimmest of leads, and for all their death-defying escape acts in getting there, only the Commodores bullpen was able to lock it down.
And when the game was over, Vanderbilt was the winner. The last winner. For the vast majority of fans watching on their television, it was the first time they had ever seen Vanderbilt holding up a trophy from something more prestigious than a mid-tier bowl game.
Vanderbilt had landed on top of the college baseball world, with everyone else looking up at them. It's rarefied air for anyone. But because Vanderbilt has tasted it fewer times than most, it's that much more sweet.