Two Tennessee Republican legislators who were the leading voices of a protest against a University of Tennessee branding change said Feb. 1 they were as happy as anyone can be with a compromise.
But Rep. Roger Kane and Sen. Becky Massey, along with thousands of fans, vow the “Lady Vols” logo will never be forgotten.
UT is doing away with the classic “Lady Vols” nickname for all of the university’s women’s sports teams, expect the women’s basketball team, for the “Power T” logo that men’s teams are using.
However, the women’s team is being allowed to keep the Lady Vols nickname and logo as a tribute to former coach Pat Summitt.
That is exactly what UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek announced would happen in November 2014, an edict that coincided with word the university was switching from Adidas to Nike for its athletic gear.
It was a Nike marketing study that recommended the University of Tennessee drop the Lady Vols logo that the women’s teams were using for a “Power-T” nickname and logo, same as the guys.
Nike made the case that having one logo and nickname would make it much easier to manage the brand of UT athletics.
Cheek agreed that moving to a Power T logo for all teams, men’s and women’s, would be best for everyone.
“The move to the Power T has built great unity among the women and men who wear it in competition every day,” Cheek said. “We are proud to be One Tennessee.”
He also stressed the decision was not being made at the expense of UT’s female athletes, even though their famous logo was being supplanted by the logo used by men’s teams.
“Our resource allocation for all student-athletes is at an all-time high. Both men and women have access to our newest, state-of-the-art facilities,” Cheek said.
The compromise agreement announced Feb. 1 is close, but not exactly what Chancellor Cheek wanted in November. He threw a bone to the tens of thousands of UT fans, state lawmakers, students and faculty who were outraged by his decision.
Where’s the compromise? It is this: all of the women’s teams will be allowed to wear a commemorative Lady Vols patch on their uniforms during the 2016-2017 season. After that, UT female athletes can decide for themselves if they want to continue wearing the patch.
That does not sound like UT administrators gave much ground to the 23,000 fans who signed petitions protesting the change more than a year ago. But it was enough to satisfy state Rep. Kane.
Kane submitted a letter to Cheek signed by himself and 44 other Tennessee state lawmakers protesting the name change. He also led the legislative effort that nearly resulted in a bill that would have forced the University of Tennessee to keep the Lady Vols nickname.
The Times Free Press reported a House subcommittee failed to pull the trigger on that bill only because lawmakers couldn’t decide if the $221,000 it would cost to reinstate the “Lady Vols” nickname was “state” money.
Even though he vehemently protested the name change for more than a year, Kane told reporters the compromise means he will be pull back the legislation to force UT to keep the Lady Vols nickname.
“Allowing the woman to call themselves what they want, having that brand recognized on their uniform because within the patch is the Lady Vols logo, those kind of things are great opportunities to keep this branding alive and keep it out there because right now we have nothing,” Kane said.
“All of the teams have gone to nothing, so we see this as a reinstatement of some of the things that have happened in the past and keeping that legacy going,” he added.
Cheek, in a statement announcing the compromise, said he realized there were “differences of opinion” regarding the choice to use the Power T logo for all of of the women’s teams except the basketball team.
“A new branding effort and a combined athletics department, however, will never erase history and tradition,” he said.
Try telling that to former UT athletes like Erin Gaeckle. She is an ex-Lady Vol swimmer who told the Tennessean the logo change left her “hurt” and “confused.” Tanya Llano, who attended a 2014 protest against the idea, is another UT diehard who may not be entirely satisfied.
“I’m just appalled they want to disable the Lady Vol name and logo,” Llano said, “because it stands for excellence.”
Sen. Massey, speaking to reporters at a press conference alongside Kane, told people who feel as strongly about this as Gaeckle and Llano that they should have no fear. The Lady Vols logo and nickname is not going to fade away into a collegiate dustbin of history.
“A lot of folks talked about the history and the heritage and they didn’t want to see the Lady Vols logo with the powder blue in it and everything go away,” Massey said. “They are still calling them Lady Vols regardless of what they’re being dictated.”