Published on 06-30-2015 08:29 AM
Number of Views: 1636
The phasing out of the “Lady Vols” brand has stirred up negative feelings among the more dedicated supporters of the women’s teams. This is understandable, as change from the familiar is hard. But let’s try to set emotion to the side for a moment. Why would anyone want to phase out the “Lady Vols” brand? The answer is simple: a stronger, monolithic Tennessee is better than a mosaic of incongruous orange pieces.
A common argument I’ve heard regarding the branding change is that the “Lady Vols” brand is famous the world over. I admit that I think this belief is a laughable idea construed from a few anecdotal experiences. In reality, very few people outside of the US know of anything much about American college athletics, whatsoever. But for the sake of this discussion, let’s say this is true: the “Lady Vols” brand is known far and wide.
Would any “Lady Vols” fan be willing to claim that the “Power T” brand is not known at least as well and as widely? I do not believe such a claim could be reasonably made. Now, do these brands have an identical footprint? Probably not, but there is at least a sizeable overlap in people who know each brand. By combining the brands, it brings more visibility to all teams attached to it. It better represents the single university all those teams play for.
Maybe this is not a convincing reason for some. Perhaps they relish having an identity separate from any perceived negative events with other teams. I have bad news: these teams are in the same athletic department. They play with the same name written across their jerseys. The players attend the same classes. There is no University of Tennessee-Lady anymore than there is a University of Tennessee-Football. The association is already made. Even if an association were not made, there is not a men’s or women’s sports team on campus that hasn’t had a student make a bad decision at some point. Or a department. Or a classroom.
Tony shared a remark on his show Friday that a woman against the brand change had made to him. She commented that the logo without “Lady Vols” looks like Texas, and thus shouldn’t be changed. Her observation is quite accurate regarding Texas’ “T” but she is apparently unfamiliar with the University of Tennessee’s primary logo and has accidentally demonstrated one of the brand issues being addressed by retiring the “Lady Vols” brand. Take a look at that logo. The “T” behind “Lady Vols” is not a Power T at all. It’s the “T” that hasn’t been used anywhere else at the university in decades, not since the interlocking “UT.” Why do we not use the interlocking “UT?” Because Texas had begun using something similar, and eventually it was decided that each school would move away from using it at a national level in favor of distinctively different brands. Eventually, Texas rolled out their longhorn logo, and Tennessee elevated Johnny Majors’ Power T design from the football helmets. Through all this the Lady Vols logo retained the old “T” from before 1977, which is not very distinguishing from Texas, Temple, Texas Tech, and many other schools that start with “T.” Any criticism of the Lady Vols logo looking like another schools’ without having “Lady Vols” written over the top of it is actually pretty good evidence that rebranding of some kind is necessary.
The use of the term “Lady…” in sports teams is completely unnecessary, anyway. What is it about a “Volunteer” in the framework of “a student, alumnus or friend of the University of Tennessee” that somehow requires further specification of their sex? The term “Lady Vol” didn’t come about until the 1970’s as the Women’s Athletic Department was created presumably in response to Title IX. The combining of the athletic departments and the retiring of the anachronistic “Lady…” is in many ways the final fulfillment of the spirit of Title IX: equal access and status regardless of sex to any federally funded activity or program. Some may have grown attached to the segregated identity of the women’s programs over the last thirty years, but future generations of female athletes should not be condemned to forever be “lady athletes,” any more than Tennessee should have “lady students” or “lady professors.” Sex is no longer a meaningful adjective when describing one’s station in society, and it is well past due that the last vestiges of those times be retired.
My next item for consideration is practical yet prickly. The financial reality of college athletics in general and Tennessee athletics in particular is that there are only a few programs that generate meaningful revenue. The programs that provide a significant surplus are even fewer in number. Regardless of one’s personal feelings of attachment to a particular sports program, no Tennessee sport exists as a competitive member of the NCAA without the money coming from the football program. Even when there were two separate athletic departments Tennessee sports programs functioned as a family that shared infrastructure, facilities, and yes, the steady income from the bread winner. We have always been one Tennessee, and it is time to conform to a structure that not only reflects that but also embraces it. If the thought of just being the “Tennessee Vols” upsets someone, perhaps they were never really cheering for Tennessee, but something else.
The University of Tennessee as an academic institution now uses the Power T as its primary logo. Combining all Tennessee athletics under one logo strengthens recognition between the teams and the one school they play for. We are living in a time when athletic teams have become the national face of universities and unifying the entire university under one logo is what is best for the school. This should take precedence over the traditions or legacies in any single sport.
And so shame on Dave Hart and Joe DiPietro. Rather than doing the right thing and retiring the Lady Vol logo completely, they undermine the many great reasons to create one brand by keeping the logo and moniker for the women’s basketball team. It takes what is actually a step towards progress and gives the impression of a slight to other women’s programs. The comments and reactions from former Tennessee volleyball, softball, and soccer players are understandable. Hart and DiPietro have committed a major failure of leadership by playing favorites. They now must decide whether to do the right thing and stick to the building of a stronger Tennessee while falling on the sword, or to back pedal into the fan base fiefdoms of the past and save their skins. Some are mad because they feel Hart and DiPietro went too far. Their real mistake was not going far enough.