By Alex Norman
Well, that’s it… the Lady Vols as we know them are gone…
The University of Tennessee, the University of Tennessee Athletic Department, the UT Board of Trustees… they found a way to greatly diminish something that has put the University of Tennessee in a positive light for decades.
The decision to eliminate the use of the name “Lady Vols” for all women’s sports but basketball as of July 1st isn’t the greatest tragedy in the grand scheme of things, but it will forever change the way that Tennessee is perceived across the country.
Current Tennessee athletes and coaches certainly can’t make their true opinions known on this topic for fear of punishment from athletic director Dave Hart, but those that have graduated have been making their voices heard on social media, including the website, savetheladyvols.com.
Fans are making their voices heard as well. Over 8500 have signed an online petition in opposition to the changes. Lady Vols season ticket holder Susan Whitlow says that she has sent UT President Joe DiPietro a petition with over 16,000 signatures.
Dozens protested inside and outside the UT Board of Trustees meeting on June 25th, even though the BOT refused to put the issue up for discussion. 45 state legislators signed a letter asking the BOT to talk about this topic. Instead, DiPietro simply responded with an email.
“We understand and respect your opinion and that of your colleagues, but we continue to hold that the decision in this matter rests with the Knoxville campus administration.”
In essence, DiPietro is saying that this was a UT-Knoxville decision and wants nothing to do with it. Not exactly the best show of leadership but pickers can’t be choosers…
So what have UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Tennessee Athletic Director said about this controversial issue? Cheek wrote a letter printed in the Knoxville News-Sentinel on June 21st, and said the decision to consolidate things wasn’t rushed.
“Today, our Athletic Department is moving hand in hand with the university toward greater brand clarity and unity with the Power T and One Tennessee. Everyone at UT values the history and traditions that are foundations of our academic and athletics programs. We believe the Power T enhances these lifelong connecting points… We know these decisions and this direction are right for our athletics program, our student-athletes and coaches, and the university.”
Hart has stayed out of the public eye for most of the past few months, and has seemed to stick with media that he knows and trusts. Back in February Hart spoke with UT athletics friendly VolQuest.com, and gave an interview to “The Nation,” a Vol Network radio show.
“It will be good,” Hart said. “I can assure you. It will be good when all is said and done. When we’re in the transition with Nike, when all the new uniforms begin to roll out, it will be good for all parties concerned and we will not forget and we will continue to honor the tradition of Lady Vols.”
Ah yes. Nike. As luck would have it, the Nike contract kicked off on July 1st, the same day the Lady Vols name went away. Because at the end of the day, the amount of merchandize sold is the most important thing for an athletic department.
But how can it be “One Tennessee” when the women’s basketball team is allowed to use the name “Lady Vols” while the women’s track team, the softball team, the rowing team, etc. are forced to switch the “Vols?” All 18 Tennessee teams should have the same name if it is “One Tennessee,” right?
Cheek’s answer… “For those who have questioned our decision to stay with the Lady Vol logo for women’s basketball, the answer is quite clear. It is a tribute to Pat Summitt, her eight national titles and her national legacy.”
Sure. Tennessee realized from the beginning that there would be considerably more public upheaval if they took the Lady Vols name from Summitt’s program only three years after she was forced to step down from the position as women’s basketball coach due to her fight against Alzheimer’s.
That doesn’t mean they won’t go for that name as well a few years down the line.
What Cheek, Hart, DiPietro and others have done here is take something unique and make it like almost every other athletic department in the country. They have done this despite the overwhelming criticism from their fans.
People that will never set foot in Knoxville know Tennessee is the home of the “Lady Vols.”
At least, it used to be…