And so the clock struck midnight on the Lady Vols.
Sort of. Maybe. Did it?
The University of Tennessee’s new ‘One Tennessee’ package officially debuts with a Nike swoosh today. The sneak peaks of gear already spotted around town on various members of the staff say it should be impressive. And that UT’s athletic department is refining its use of the choreographed info leak as a promotional tool.
It also marks the end of the Lady Vols’ separate brand. Except for women’s basketball, which is to say it isn’t really doing away with it. Depending on your point of view, it excludes one women’s team from ‘One Tennessee,’ or it excludes the rest of the women’s teams from being Lady Vols.
It reminds me of the rebranding Maryville College initiated almost a decade ago when then athletic director Randy Lambert gave us the endorsing quote,”now we’re all just Scots.”
Which is to say the school did its best to refer to all its teams as Scots, but most fans never did buy in. It was still “Lady Scots” and “Fighting Scots” in most conversations and, to be honest, as much as we at the paper could get away with it.
The fact is, print space and good headlines are a premium item and Lady Scots takes 10 characters, where using the branding’s MC women’s basketball took twice that much room to say the same thing. That’s going to be Tennessee’s problem as well.
Not simply because there is a much larger and more vocal sect of the UT fan base adamantly against the change than MC experienced, but because there’s a great big front-and-center exemption to the new rule.
You can change what you call yourself, but you can’t make people use it.
The uniforms and signage may not have “Lady” in front of it, and the T-shirts in the concourse may have no baby blue in them, but that won’t stop the average fan from saying “Lady Vol.” In many ways, it’s just convenient to differentiate between the men’s and women’s teams competing in the same sport at the same time.
The more times “Lady Vols” continues to be said in conversation — be it at the water cooler, watering hole or on the call-in shows — the longer it stays. The more time “Lady Vols” is written in text, tweet, blog or article, the longer it remains the way people label the teams in their mind.
That exemption for women’s basketball and the reasoning around it, just underlines the argument for the opponents. Consider the name of the marketing program — ‘One Tennessee’ — and notice it wasn’t “All Vol” or something akin.
Those who will provide their support — despite the mental gymnastics required to bring that logic train into a station — may have to go so far as to refer to those sweet sponge biscuits as just fingers, delete a certain Kenny Rogers’ classic from their iPod, try to forget LBJ was married to a spouse with the same initials, and probably struggle to make an adult sounding sentence using just Ga Ga when the diva’s next album arrives.
It’s much simpler for those fans who still want it to be Lady Vol softball, crew, tennis, volleyball, etc. Just keep calling them “Lady Vols.” Keep the vintage gear and don’t buy the new stuff. Give it a few years and the marketing wonder kids will have moved up or out and Lady Vol may start creeping back into the official usage.
If the fans don’t go silently, Lady Vols will remain in the other women’s sports.
There was before, and there will remain, just ‘One Tennessee.’
The disturbing part is that One Vol does not fit all. And by its own use of an exception at the inception, UT already knows it.