By Steve Williams
Forget the protesting, the petition, the pleading.
If fans really want to make a statement regarding the pending takeaway of the iconic Lady Vol logo and nickname from all University of Tennessee women’s athletic teams except basketball, they’ll boycott the first and second round games Tennessee is expected to play at Thompson-Boling Arena in the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament.
This, I believe, is the only thing that will get the attention of the UT top brass.
Yep, hit ‘em in the pocketbook.
Nothing else has seemed to work over the past four months.
Athletic Director Dave Hart hasn’t budged a bit since announcing UT’s branding restructure on Nov. 10, 2014.
And UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek is just a yes man for Hart.
UT president Joseph DiPietro threw in his two cents late last month when he told the university’s Board of Trustees the Lady Vol logo change was not up for debate.
On July 1, all Tennessee athletic teams – women as well as men – will be known as “Volunteers” and have the Power T logo, except women’s basketball, which will continue to be known as the Lady Vols and have the Lady Vol logo.
The women’s basketball program has been excluded from the new branding, the university states, because of the accomplishments and legacy of the championship program built by former coach Pat Summitt and her players.
The Lady Vol identity change will coincide with the switch from adidas to Nike apparel. Some even feel Nike had a say-so in making the controversial changes. UT last week reportedly wouldn’t give up Nike’s e-mails, either.
The identity change also is supposed to be part of the new “One Tennessee” campaign, which is hoped to unite all athletic programs at UT. However, some of the women athletes on non-basketball teams feel a little slighted by the decision that they soon will no longer be officially called Lady Vols, even though they believe they work just as hard in their sports as the basketball players.
Former and current Lady Vol athletes, as well as fans, have made their voices heard but to no avail.
At a state capitol rally for women’s issues, a small group of activists held up signs that read, “Save the Lady Vols.”
State Representative Roger Kane of Knoxville hosted a Lady Vols Day on The Hill.
A website, www.bringbacktheladyvols.com, has posted letters from former and current Lady Vols.
A petition reportedly contained over 15,000 signatures to reverse the UT decision in early March.
Last week, critics were still waiting for an explanation that made sense.
Many also ask, why was such a change even necessary?
UT’s men’s and women’s athletic programs were one of the last in the country to merge in 2012, but the merger didn’t alter the Lady Vols’ feeling of distinction. They still had their own logo and nickname.
It’s a logo and nickname that’s probably the most recognizable in the nation for collegiate women’s athletics.
“We had our own identity,” said a former Lady Vol softball player. “A lot of history and pride goes with that. It’s not just basketball, it’s all of us.”
Boycotting the NCAA tourney games would be a way for Lady Vol basketball fans to show they care for all Lady Vol teams. The Lady Vol basketball players themselves could feel good about contributing to the cause as well.
Year in and year out, most first and second-round games do not draw large crowds, but Lady Vol fans usually outnumber opposing fan bases by far in these early round contests.
UT leaders would be foolish and shortsighted to think a boycott couldn’t be repeated in a future regular season game as well. If social media can organize an Orange and White checkerboard stadium for a Tennessee football game in a matter of days, it can organize Lady Vol fans to boycott for a worthy cause.
Hopefully, a two-game boycott would be enough for Lady Vol fans to get what they want.
They wouldn’t let you tell them. So show them.