A bill filed in December 2015 in the Tennessee State legislature has emotions flowing on both sides and Tuesday, the House of Representatives sub-committee took up the issue.
In July 2015, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville made the decision to get rid of the Lady Vols nickname for all women’s athletic sports except the women’s basketball team.
The university said last year it would change over to the power T logo to the Volunteers nickname for all athletic teams for branding reasons. This was all done in conjunction with the university’s new licensing agreement with Nike. The only team to maintain the Lady Vols name and logo would be the women’s basketball team.
However, the change upset many fans and alumni. The debate and fight ended up in the halls of Tennessee’s state capitol after House Bill 1451 was sponsored by Representative Roger Kane and Senate Bill 1923 was sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley to change the name back to the Lady Vols on all women’s athletic teams for the university.
The House Education and Planning sub-committee heard arguments from both sides and presented questions to representatives from both sides of the issue. However, a vote on the matter from the sub-committee was delayed a week after one representative questioned the fiscal note presented to lawmakers.
Representative Rick Womick called a fiscal note into question when the note reflected $200,000.
Womick addressed Andy Haynes, Vice President of Government Relations for the University of Tennessee Knoxville, regarding his concerns.
“This is supposed to be completely separate, yet we have state expenditures that are supposed to be spent. I call it a bogus fiscal note because that’s what it is,” said Womick. “This fiscal note tells me state dollars are involved and if state dollars are involved, then it changes my perspective and I think we need to be involved.”
Haynes said it was his understanding state dollars were not going toward the athletic department for the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and the fiscal note was to reflect the amount spent, since the university is a state institution, and not the amount of tax dollars spent.
“I think his (Womick’s) concern is a very valid one,” Representative Harry Brooks, said.
Haynes said UT Knoxville was self sustaining and did not rely on state subsidies to operate. He also said there were no tax dollars being used to sustain the athletic department. Haynes said the majority of revenue that sustains the athletic department comes from the football program, which, according to Haynes, provides 80-85 percent of funds for the athletic program.
The university said because of legendary coach Pat Summitt’s legacy that was left on the sport of women’s basketball on the nation and globally, the women’s basketball team was chosen to maintain the name Lady Vols in her honor.
However, those against the changing of the name said they were not given the opportunity to voice their concerns to the university and that Coach Summitt had an impact on more than just women’s basketball.
Dr. Molly Delosier, UT alumnus and former swimmer, said it was that impact which should be honored by keeping the name Lady Vols on all women’s sports.
“Pat Summitt was not just a basketball coach, she was also an assistant athletic director. She was also active in recruiting for other sports,” Delosier said. “Names matter. We have always been one Tennessee.”
Delosier said it is an honor to be called a Lady Volunteer in any sport and losing that ‘honor’ is heartbreaking.
However, Haynes said the bill before legislature was nothing more than a request to have government to intervene in a business decision made by the university.
“This is really a request to put government in the middle of it for the first time when there’s been no unethical violations, just a disagreement in the outcome,” Haynes said. “It was a business decision whether or not to go with a brand. What you are being asked to do is put government in the middle of a college’s business decision.”
“So we’re going to get rid of a historical name for the almighty dollar?” questioned Womick. “We’re selling out the name Lady Vols for a monetary contract and the decision is being made by a handful of individuals.”
Womick said he was mostly bothered by the lack of communication by the university to the alumni and fans. He said the university should have allowed those opposed to this decision to have their voice heard before making a final determination.
The committee will vote on the bill next week after gaining more information on the fiscal note and clarification regarding if tax dollars are going to fund any portion of the athletic department of UT Knoxville.