Marcus Fitzsimmons

There’s no doubt that “One Tennessee” isn’t what it used to be.

Before it was an initiative and overly vetted marketing label, it used to be a realistic goal for season’s end for a lot of the teams wearing the Orange & White in Knoxville.

As in No. 1 Tennessee.

Those days under a burnt orange sun are in a half light and for fans it’s like waking up with the inner clock discombobulated and struggling to tell if that sun is rising or setting.

Some of the build up to the problems that knocked Tennessee from its once proud pedestal started long before the current guardians in administration and their coaching hires arrived. Some of it is the inevitable result from dramatic shifts in the college athletic landscape in the last two decades. Some is the natural rise and decline of champions.

So despite claims of the Hartless boo birds, not every sin, boil and hang nail in Knoxville started with the hiring of Dave Hart as UT’s athletic director.

That’s neither excuse, nor is it blanket approval of Hart. It is merely restating the fact that Tennessee had financial problems, dealing with NCAA issues and was in the midst of a merging its two gender segregated athletic departments — divided by a common UT — into one before Hart arrived on the scene.

Since then there have been a combination of steps forward — hiring Rick Barnes and promoting Holly Warlick come to mind. And some steps backward — hiring Donnie Tyndall. And some steps — with other hiring and administrative moves — where the jury remains out.

The third rail of removing “Lady” from “Vol” in all but women’s basketball though is the one that will not go away. And shouldn’t.

If there’s room and just cause for one exception, then there’s validity in those same reasons to be applied to the other women’s teams.

There’s just a common sense factor involved.

“Vols win last night?” at the coffee pot shouldn’t prompt a response of “men or women?”

If they were talking basketball this year it didn’t matter. Yes meant women. No meant men.

But if Barnes pans out, or if it was question asked while Bruce Pearl was in town under good graces, then it’s a legitimate question. If baseball coach Dave Serrano gets the corner turned on the baseball program, it will be an issue between baseball and softball.

A (pun intended) uniform power T for all Tennessee teams is a good thing. It doesn’t require tossing out Lady as a stigma in Tennessee’s case.

Especially in Tennessee’s case.

Lady Vol has a perception built out of basketball, tennis and track, then extending over the last decade or so into rowing and softball. A Lady Vol goes to class, graduates, doesn’t make the arrest reports, doesn’t end up talking to NCAA investigators and has a better than even chance of playing for a national championship at least once in her college career.

It is not a 100 percent accurate perception. It is also not going to be confused with perceptions of many of the men’s teams regardless of success.

Lady Vol is more badge of honor than second class stigma. Removing it is tantamount to demotion of female athletes for the sake of marketing unification.

It already is “One Tennessee.”

It doesn’t need to be One Vol fits all.

Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times, who enjoys reading comments posted to this column at thedailytimes.com

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